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Can you please tell me if there is any difference in meaning between beat someone, "beat on someone" and "beat up on someone"? For example:

The criminal beat the man until he was stopped by police.

The criminal beat on the man until he was stopped by police.

The criminal beat up on the man until he was stopped by police.

Online dictionaries say that all three mean hitting many times. I'd like to know if native speakers of English sense a nuance of difference in meaning between the three please.

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  • 'Beat' is normal anywhere formal or informal, but 'beat on', and 'beat up on' are mainly US informal. All mean the same thing. Jul 23, 2022 at 11:26
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    I'm from the UK and "beat on" and "beat up on" sound American to me, and quite odd to my ears. In the UK, the closest would be "to beat someone up" - which is very informal.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 23, 2022 at 11:33
  • I speak AmE, and I wouldn't use "beat on" to mean "beat up". It would be correct to say "the rain beat on me as I walked down the street". I also wouldn't use "beat up on", but if someone else did then I'd probably recognize it as a synonym for "beat up". Jul 23, 2022 at 12:43
  • In my opinion, Americans don't really use "beat" (your first option) conversationally that much these days (except maybe in the context of domestic violence); instead we usually say "beat up." "Beat" usually sounds fairly formal/dated to me.
    – cruthers
    Jul 23, 2022 at 13:17
  • Beat stands alone, the others are emphasis imo. Beat on is US English. UK is beat up. Beat up on is just a bizarre addition of the two. I first heard 'beat on' used in an American song in the mid 70's, so it's been around a while. [The lyrics leave no room for mis-interpretation - Ramones, "Beat on the brat, with a baseball bat"] As you can use 'beat on' in a musical sense, I think someone may have just shifted its meaning. Jul 24, 2022 at 7:39

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I'm a native English speaker form the UK. There are problems with all of these examples IMHO.

  1. The use of the simple past "beat" in your first example, followed by "until he was stopped" really grates on my British nerves. It sounds odd in this context. It would be better to use the past continuous "was beating the man until ..."

  2. "Beat on" sounds weird to me in this context. You can beat on a drum, but generally not on a human, well I suppose you technically could but how strange! Ultimately, I don't know if this usage is a colloquial American thing, but it sounds odd to Brits.

  3. "Beat up on" makes no sense to me at all, although it appears in some online dictionaries. It's not used here in the UK. America maybe?

In the UK we usually say "to beat someone up", but this is very informal. In more formal situations it's more likely to hear "The criminal was assaulting the man until the police stopped it", or perhaps "was fighting with the man until ..."

As to whether there is a difference between beating someone up and just beating them, "beating someone up" is an assault, but the meaning of to "beat someone" depends on context. In this context, it's essentially the same. But "to beat" can also mean to win against, as in "He beat me at chess".

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  • Yes, "beat up on" is casual American English. Jul 23, 2022 at 13:13
  • @JeffreyCarney yes, I'm from the UK. We don't use this.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 23, 2022 at 13:13
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    Beat until doesn't worry me at all - 'beat the eggs until stiff peaks form.. or the police stop you' ;) Beat on, is definitely US to me, beat up on is bizarre tautology. Jul 24, 2022 at 7:43
  • @gonefishin'again. It's not just "beat . . . until" that's the problem here. It's the use of the simple past followed by "until he was stopped". It's like saying "The man ate an egg (a past action which is over), until he was stopped by his mother". She couldn't stop him, if he already ate the egg. It's illogical.
    – Billy Kerr
    Jul 24, 2022 at 9:01
  • I'm no grammarian, but "he ate [anything] until he [was] stopped" doesn't to me imply he had finished, whether it was his decision or his mother's. I actually resorted to wordreference.com/conj/enverbs.aspx?v=eat and still can't find a better alternative. I'm definitely open to correction, but I cannot think of a better way to say it. Jul 24, 2022 at 9:46

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