# "I pushed him by his back" vs "I held the cup by its handle"?

Normally, we use "by" to say a part of an object that we hold, grab, take etc.

For example, "I held the cup by its handle".

Can we say "I pushed him by his back" or "I pulled him up by his arms"?

Some told me to say "I pushed him from his back".

• An interesting question! Pulled by, yes. But pushed by sounds odd. I think we only use by when we're actually grasping or seizing something. Jul 28, 2022 at 11:54
• If you pushed him from his back, you somehow pushed him so hard that his backbone burst out of his body and stayed motionless in the air, while the rest of his body shot forward, away from his back. Not something I would recommend doing to your friends. Jul 29, 2022 at 8:09
• "Can we say "I pushed him by his back" or "I pulled him up by his arms"?": (1) no (2) yes. "Some told me to say "I pushed him from his back"": they were wrong. Jul 29, 2022 at 10:39

I pushed him in the back to move him forward.
OR:
I pushed his back to move him forward.

from his back is wrong. Because: you can't grasp someone's back, i.e. hold onto it.

I pushed/pulled him [up or down] by the leg or legs, arm or arms, foot or feet, hand or hands, or by the neck.

As stangdon said in the comments, yes, we say Pulled by [part of thing or body] to describe what precise part we're pulling.

With Push, we have to use other words, as Push by sounds like we pushed [x] past another object. If I say I pushed a trolley by an object, people would think I pushed a trolley past the object but perhaps I missed it closely.

In your example, you might want to say "I pushed him in the back", which suggests the push was aimed at his back. You may also say "I pushed him from behind", meaning you were behind him when you initiated the push.

Finally, Pushed by can be used in the passive voice: "I was pushed by him in the back". In this context, by is used to identify who or what had pushed you, and you can identify where the push was aimed afterwards. As Barmar said in the comments, this is not limited to first person.

• There's nothing specific to the first person in your last paragraph, since you can also say "She was pushed by him." What you're describing there is the passive voice. Jul 28, 2022 at 21:21
– Onyx
Jul 29, 2022 at 7:13

It’s rare that someone would clarify which part of the body they made contact with when they pushed someone or were pushed. Clarifying the direction of pushing is common and does imply which part of the body was pushed.

1. I [pushed them|was pushed] sideways. - implies contact was made with the arm, shoulder, or hip
2. I [pushed them|was pushed] forwards. - implies contact was made with the back
3. I [pushed them|was pushed] backwards. - implies contact was made with the front of chest

But, as I mentioned, usually it’s not clear what part of the body was pushed on.

Someone might say, “He put one hand right between my shoulder blades and pushed hard", or something similar.

• It is perfectly common to say that you push someone in the back or chest, though. With many other body parts it sounds very odd (pushed me in the knees?), but that’s just because pushing virtually always includes making contact with a small subset of body parts: back, chest, shoulder(s), face, (back of the) head. Jul 29, 2022 at 8:08

When you say 'by' in this manner, you're saying that 'in pushing him, I used his back'. That's kind of strange to the intuition; you target the back with your push, not that you used the back in pushing.

Saying 'from his back' is even worse! As if you were located in the place that you pushed, which wasn't nessesarily true. Like, from behind the person is not the same as 'I pushed him in the back'.

Instead, you may drop 'by' alltogether. "I pushed his back", or "i pushed him at the back". "I pushed him in the back" sounds more correct to me than "I pushed him by the back", but I think technically it's fine.

(It's fine because it's amply clear, and indeed the back gets used in the push)