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If I play a song using my guitar, can I say these interchangeably?

I play it with my guitar.

I play it on my guitar.

Context: Let’s say I heard someone listening to a song and I am telling him/her, “I like that song. I play it on/with my guitar.” I am sure we can use “on,” I think “with” is probably okay too but I feel I am more used to the use of “on” with musical instruments so I wanted to make sure if we could use “with” as well. I think they have different connotations but I guess they are both usable.

3 Answers 3

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With the verb "play", and with the meaning of playing music, "on" necessarily indicates what is used as the musical instrument, so "I play it on my guitar" is the most natural, and can only mean the guitar itself is the musical instrument. Even if the song is drummed on the guitar, the guitar itself is the drum.

In the same context, the preposition "with" indicates what object you used to play the song. If you name a musical instrument, it most likely means you played it on that musical instrument, but it could also mean you used the guitar in some other way to play the song, like using it to push the notes on a piano, or hit a xylophone, or just beat out the rhythm on a table.

So both will be understood, but "on" is more natural.

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    +1 with caveat that your case of "with" being understood to play a piano "with" a guitar, etc, requires some amount of comic overthinking.
    – cruthers
    Nov 3, 2022 at 17:13
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    Thanks. So the two of you don’t exactly think it is unnatural to use “with” in my provided case and a native speaker could use it, but it’s still less natural than the use of “on” to some degree. Am I right? Nov 4, 2022 at 14:08
  • @FireandIce Yes, that's exactly it. :)
    – gotube
    Nov 4, 2022 at 16:08
  • @gotube I wonder why the other users don’t agree though. Nov 5, 2022 at 5:07
  • Playing a song on the guitar is standard. However, it's best not to play with your guitar, you might damage it.
    – Lambie
    May 9, 2023 at 21:37
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The idiomatic way of saying you are able to play the instrument would be:

  • I play (the) guitar.

The idiomatic way of saying that a song was played using the instrument would be:

  • I played [the song] on guitar.

"Played with a guitar" may be understood but just isn't idiomatic. In British English, "played with" is an idiomatic way of saying you handled something thoughtlessly or ignorantly. I'm a musician myself and when a musician says something like "I play with the guitar" (or more commonly, "I play around with the guitar") it is generally a way of saying that you do use the instrument but you are not fully competent at playing it, that is perhaps not your main instrument.

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  • Thanks. But, “with” can mean “by the use of.” So you say it is not idiomatic to say “I played it on my guitar” while I am sure we can say he chopped the woods with an axe, he ate the beans with a fork etc? So we can’t just use “with” along with “play” in the meaning of “by the use of”? For example can’t we say ”He likes playing fighting games with a controller instead of an arcade stick”? Nov 3, 2022 at 13:58
  • The user steemic here doesn’t seem to agree with you: forum.wordreference.com/threads/play-on-play-with.2793690 Nov 3, 2022 at 14:15
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    @FireandIce Yes but that isn't idiomatic when it comes to musical instruments. Or other things, for that matter. You wouldn't say "I drove home with my car", either.
    – Astralbee
    Nov 3, 2022 at 14:50
  • I see. Do you think we can use “play with” when talking about playing using a controller like in the example I gave. Say I saw my friend playing a game using a keyboard and a mouse, can I go up to him and say “Oh, you’re playing with a keyboard and a mouse? I always play with a controller.” Perhaps I need to open another topic for this. Nov 3, 2022 at 15:01
  • @FireandIce It really is a case-by-case basis. Playing a video game, I would probably say 'with' a controller (or 'I'm using a controller') but its far more idiomatic to say you're playing "on" the console or gaming platform rather than the interface. On the other hand, PC gamers tend to say "I'm playing on keyboard" if they aren't using a controller. There would be exhaustive list of idiomatic prepositions.
    – Astralbee
    Nov 3, 2022 at 16:34
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"Play it with my guitar" is not a natural way of speaking.

Possibly because, although it would be clear what you meant from context, 'playing with', would normally mean you were, for example, cleaning, tuning, or making adjustments.

Remember, 'with' and 'on' are prepositions, and prepositions are as much chosen more according to custom than by any rule. There are various rules that have been 'back fitted' to various situations (such as when you ride on something and when you ride in it), but there is no universal rule, and you need to seek out anything applicable, or learn on a case by case basis.

In this instance, 'played it with my guitar' is just not the way native speakers say it.

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  • Thanks. But, “with” can mean “by the use of.” So you say it is not idiomatic to say “I played it on my guitar” while I am sure we can say he chopped the woods with an axe, he ate the beans with a fork etc? So we can’t just use “with” along with “play” in the meaning of “by the use of”? Nov 3, 2022 at 13:56
  • The user steemic here doesn’t seem to agree with you: forum.wordreference.com/threads/play-on-play-with.2793690 Nov 3, 2022 at 14:16
  • The choice of preposition is not constant for any verb. We travel on a train or bus, but in a car. Sometimes it's obvious: e.g. "I put the roof on the house", "I went under the bridge", but sometimes, custom trumps logic. Steemic is talking about a tablet, not a musical instrument.
    – PRL75
    Nov 3, 2022 at 14:31
  • I see but I can find instances on the web where “with” is used with “play” in the sense of “by the use of.” For example, do you think “He plays video games with a controller instead of a keyboard and a mouse” is a wrong sentence too? Or even if you think it is wrong, wouldn’t any native English speakers say it? Nov 3, 2022 at 14:37
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    @gotube Again, you contradict yourself in one comment. You say "there are very clear rules that determine why we use on a bus but in a car", then say "Don't say: the preposition choice is not constant for any verb". Please stop adding nonsensical comments to my answers. Also, why do you keep adding comments saying there are rules and not quoting or citing them? It makes it look as if you're being intentionally unhelpful.
    – PRL75
    Nov 3, 2022 at 17:31

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