I'm learning English as my second language, and what one of my college teacher explained seems not quiet right.

He said that these words, such as 'grab, pull, etc', whenever they are used, it has to be like this:

He grabbed her by the arm, or He took him by the collar.

Not like:

He grabbed her arm, or He took his collar.

He said the person that comes after the verb always has to be objective, never possessive, and preposition has to follow them.

I've already googled these words and saw many usages like:

'My boyfriend grabbed my arm.Is that abuse?'

I know saying like 'he grab her on the arm' is not wrong, but is it wrong to say or write 'he grab her arm'?

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He grabbed her by the arm.

He grabbed her arm.

Both sentences are correct. The difference can be illustrated by context.

  1. He grabbed her by the arm and started to pull her towards the door. [He is performing an action on her and he uses her arm as a way to do it.]

  2. He grabbed her arm so that he could see what was tattooed on it. [He is performing an action specifically on her arm -- not on her whole person.]


He took him by the collar.

He took his collar.

  1. The teacher took the misbehaving student by the collar and escorted him out of the classroom. [He used the collar as a means to move the pupil.]

  2. He took his collar. [This perhaps refers to a removable collar such as is found on a dress suit. Someone took/removed/perhaps even stole the collar.]

  • neatly explained +1 for the content above the line. Also, in the first example, grabbing her by 'the' arm and 'her' arm may also make the difference depending on the context. – Maulik V Oct 14 '15 at 10:37
  • @MaulikV - Yes, context is vital in English. I simplified my answer and it would be possible to change the meaning of the phrases by deliberately choosing a different context for them. I decided not to go into the ramifications so as to avoid confusion. – chasly from UK Oct 14 '15 at 10:40
  • Yes, that is correct, except that it should be, "He pulled her by the arm." Note that 'the arm' refers to her arm not his arm. If you said, "He pulled her by arm." it would mean that he used his arm to pull her, so that is a third meaning! – chasly from UK Oct 14 '15 at 11:02
  • Ah, I see. Those articles are very confusing, anyway thanks again. – user142660 Oct 14 '15 at 11:05
  • Yes, unfortunately articles are quite difficult to learn for non-native speakers. However they can make a big difference to the meaning. – chasly from UK Oct 14 '15 at 11:06

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