In which one of the following sentences the preposition 'at' seems to be redundant and why:

  • He shot at the sparrow.
  • He fired at the sparrow.

Meanwhile I need to know if both 'shoot' and 'fire' sounds natural to you and of course they are identical in this sense or each one of these two convey different meanings.

  • have you looked at the dictionary entries for shoot and fire, for example here: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fire
    – JavaLatte
    Jul 30, 2016 at 20:06
  • 1
    @JavaLatte of course I have several dictionaries myself and undoubtedly almost always go through them and even most of the times online dictionaries too, but the problem is that irrespective of the fact that bringing up this question I was going to discover some slight semantic nuances between these two verbs and subsequently their proper usage, I have sometimes confront with using e.g. the verb 'fire' without the preposition 'at'; it made me doubt if it is possible to omit it or using it might be optional or something.
    – A-friend
    Jul 30, 2016 at 21:24
  • Please see Q: Not so fast! (When should I accept my answer?) If you want the most from this website, I highly recommend you wait 2 or 3 days before selecting an answer. By selecting one as quickly as you do, you are hurting your chances to receive other answers, which you might judge to be even more helpful than the one you have currently selected. Jul 31, 2016 at 15:07

1 Answer 1


I think your research has been misdirected. Let us read a simple definition of at from Merriam-Webster:

used to indicate the person or thing toward which an action, motion, or feeling is directed or aimed

I make the assumption that shot and fire mean to discharge a weapon, like a pistol. Now we consider the examples.

  1. He shot at the sparrow.
  2. He shot the sparrow.

1 means that he shot towards the sparrow, or in the direction of the sparrow. It does not necessarily imply that the sparrow was injured, killed, or even hit by the bullet. 2 implies that the sparrow was actually hit.

  1. He fired at the sparrow.
  2. He fired the sparrow.

3 is similar in meaning to 1. 4 does not sound right (to me at least) under the aforementioned assumption. One usually fires a weapon, a bullet, a rocket, etc., and not the target. So 4 does not sound like anyone shot or shot at the bird. Since 4 doesn't make sense in terms of shooting, then, to me, the first definition that comes to mind for 4 is


  1. : to dismiss from employment
    <He was fired from his job.>

So the sparrow was dismissed from his job. This is silly. :D
The second meaning that comes to mind is that the bird was roasted. In either case, the meaning of shooting does not come to mind.

  • 1
    The problem with sentence 4 ("He fired the sparrow") is that the relevant meaning of "fire" is to shoot a gun or similar weapon. If there is a direct object, that direct object is the weapon. So "He fired the sparrow" would mean that he was somehow using the sparrow as a gun, which doesn't make sense. (On the other hand, if he had a bird-launching cannon, you could say "he fired a sparrow" to mean that he loaded a sparrow into the cannon and then launched it.) Jul 31, 2016 at 11:04
  • @DavidRicherby Yes, I tried to imply that by "One usually fires a weapon, a bullet, a rocket". I didn't really want to expand on it very much. And yes, if we had a bird-launching cannon then it could work. But I also tried to sweep that under the rug with "discharge a weapon, like a pistol". Fired might also work with a flamethrower, but I didn't really want to bring that up. Haha. Thanks for the details.
    – Em.
    Jul 31, 2016 at 11:21
  • @DavidRicherby it was so funny; :D thank you very much for letting me have some more information. Actually I understood these points from what Max had mentioned. However I have to thank you again.
    – A-friend
    Aug 1, 2016 at 7:46

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