What is the semantic difference between the following sentences?

She bit into an apple.

She bit off an apple.

Another example

1.A man whose arm was bitten into by an alligator.( if it makes a sense)

2.A man whose arm was bitten off by an alligator. ( longman)

In the first example the second sentence focuses on biting process whereas the first one is neutral and basically is used for eating something, correct?

  • 1
    Don't understand what you are looking for. bit into=bite vs. bitten off=separated using teeth? into and off should be enough to get the difference.
    – user3169
    Apr 22, 2016 at 0:16
  • 2
    "She bit off an apple" doesn't make sense on it's own. She bit the apple off of what? If I have a chocolate Easter bunny, I can bite into it, or I can bite off its ear. You bite off a piece of something, but you bite into the something. Now, if there was a candy tree decorated with little candy apples, she could bite off an apple from the candy tree.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 22, 2016 at 0:19
  • To bite OFF means to come completely free from some place. So, to bite OFF the apples means from where it is growing on a tree....
    – Lambie
    Apr 22, 2016 at 22:50

1 Answer 1


"She bit into an apple." This is grammatical and makes sense on its own. In the story of Snow White, biting into a poisoned apple is an important part of the story.

Snow White bit into the fruit, and as she did, fell to the ground in a faint: the effect of the terrible poison left her lifeless instantaneously. (Source)

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"She bit off an apple." doesn't make sense without more context. Usually we would say something like "She bit off a piece of apple." To "bite off", a piece needs to be separated from the whole with your teeth. If there was an edible apple tree like the one below, she could bite off an apple (from that tree).

Rice Krispie Treat Tree with Candy Apple M&Ms

There is an idiom that might help explain it - to bite off more than you can chew. Taken literally, it means that the piece you bit off is so big, it fills your whole mouth making it hard to close your jaw to chew it. I picture something like this

Chipmunk Cheeks

Some more examples:

The dog bit into the man's leg. (Doesn't tell you if the dog has let go, or if the dog has taken a chunk out of the leg.)

The dog bit off the man's nose. (Most or all of the man's nose was separated from his face. Ouch!)

The dog bit the man. (Doesn't tell you where the dog bit the man, or whether it bit anything off, or how severe the bite was.)

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