Peter Quill: He is gonna be so pissed when he realizes I switched out the Orb on him.

Gmora: He was gonna kill you, Peter.

Peter Quill: I know. But he was about the only family I had.

Gmora: No. He wasn't.

-- Guardians.of.the.Galaxy.2014

enter image description here

Although I fully understand what this dialogue is all about, I'm wondering what the usage of on is here.

I think on indicates who is the recipient of the action.

Can you please give me some more examples?

  • To this native speaker, the on usage above is perfectly natural and commonplace. But I've absolutely no idea what switching out the Orb means. And even if I knew what "the Orb" was, I think most likely I'd expect it to be either switched on or switched off. The speaker presumably avoids using off because it would clash with the immediately-following on used in a completely different sense, but I'd still say the usage switch out is relatively non-standard. – FumbleFingers Nov 30 '14 at 15:37
  • @FumbleFingers, this example of "switched out" is an informal phrasal verb meaning "replaced" or "swapped". Peter gave his former captian a fake Orb. – Gary Botnovcan Nov 30 '14 at 15:58
  • @Gary: You have prior knowledge that an Orb here is something that could be swapped for a "fake" Orb. Without that knowledge it's more reasonable for me to assume Orbs are things that can be switched on or off (like lights). Since it's a sci-fi context, one might even contrive that the Orb is a kind of light bulb. And that Quill swapped an Orb emitting visible [to humans] light for one that only emitted UV-light, say. Which might be specifically intended for use by certain aliens who use that part of the EMF spectrum to see. – FumbleFingers Nov 30 '14 at 16:15
  • @FumbleFingers, I agree. That's why I commented. To understand "switched out", you'd either have to know the context (as in, watch the movie and see the results of the swap) or speak a dialect where "switched out" is a common phrasal verb. I don't expect that you (or most readers, for that matter) would have that context unless a comment like mine provides it. I did not mean to imply that you should have known. I only meant to imply that you probably couldn't have known unless I told you. – Gary Botnovcan Nov 30 '14 at 16:36
  • @Gary: Yeah. I suppose I'd have to classify switched out there as a somewhat "dialectal" usage, since I myself would rarely if ever include the preposition in such contexts. And there have to be at least two "Orbs" for any such action to be undertaken, so my preferred form would probably be "I switched Orbs on him" anyway. Whatever - the specific point being queried here is the on [victim / "patient" of action performed by "agent"], which is well covered by both answers as I write. – FumbleFingers Nov 30 '14 at 16:49

I played a trick on her.

I went Jackie Chan (or Chuck Norris) on him (also on his ass): I used martial arts on him.

My car died on me.

21. Informal. so as to disturb or affect adversely: My hair dryer broke on me.


  • This might be even clearer in contrast. The statement "I replaced the Orb for him" means that the replacement is beneficial to him. The statement "I replaced the Orb on him" means that the replacement is detrimental to him. – Gary Botnovcan Nov 30 '14 at 15:54
  • 1
    That's a point! @GaryBotnovcan – Kinzle B Nov 30 '14 at 16:02
  • BTW, can against be used instead? I played a trick against her. I used martial arts against him. Any nuances? @GaryBotnovcan Jim Reynolds – Kinzle B Nov 30 '14 at 16:06
  • Hmm. Not with tricked. I played a trick on xxx or I tricked xxx. But use (weapon/tactic) against is ok. – Jim Reynolds Nov 30 '14 at 16:23
  • In my dialect, "played a trick against her" works, but doesn't feel completely natural. I find it more idiomatic to say "played a trick on her". "I used martial arts against him" is perfectly natural, but "I went 'Bruce Lee' against him" isn't. "My car died against me" either makes no sense or simply doesn't mean the same thing. It seems that this sense of "on" is synonymous with this sense of "against", but that "on" is licensed more often. – Gary Botnovcan Nov 30 '14 at 17:16

Best simple substitution example I can think of would be

"I played a trick on him"

Your example is, I would say, very idiomatic; colloquial, I'd even call it 'hip-speak' especially considering the source.
The entire "switched out [object] on him" I would tend to think of as US Eng, though at modern rates of adoption that might be hard to prove.

My attempts to get an NGRAM have proven fruitless.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.