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What is the difference between 'to my face', 'at my face' and 'in my face'? I searched it on google books and got results for all of them with various hits. Does one seem more accurate over the other? Which one would a native speaker use and why?

He pointed a gun at my face.

He pointed a gun in my face.

He pointed a gun to my face.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The distinctions between these phrases may be somewhat colloquial and/or what I'll call "teen-speak" but at least in the US they tend to be used for decidedly different purposes and are not interchangeable in those contexts.

"To my face" is used to mean "in my presence" For example someone could say:

She'll say that when I'm not around, I'd like to hear her say that to my face!
(...say that while we're looking each other in the eye)

"In my face" is used when someone is confronting you, arguing with you, or pointing out that they believe you have done something wrong.

I can't believe my mom "got all in my face" just because I forgot to take out the trash
(...my mom was yelling at me [perhaps even with her face just inches from mine])

The baseball team manager was so upset by the umpire's call that he got right in his face and was yelling at the top of his lungs.
(...the manager was literally nose to nose with the ump telling him exactly what he thought of the call)

at my face has no special connotations

He pointed a gun at my face - probably means the bullet would hit my face if it were fired, while if the gun barrel were just a few inches from my face, I'd be more likely to say, "*He had his gun in my face"

So having said all that, the first two of your sentences might likely be heard from a native speaker in the right situation.
The third statement would probably never be.

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Agreed, except that I doubt anyone would say that he "pointed his gun in my face" either. "Had a gun in my face", as you said, or "waved a gun in my face" (as FumbleFingers said) would be the phrase I'd expect to hear. Point + In just doesn't go together. –  Lynn Mar 23 '12 at 6:18
    
I don’t see anything unnatural about “He pointed a gun at my face”, except perhaps that it seems less aggressive than the act of having someone at gunpoint normally is. “He pointed the light at her face to inspect her skin more closely” seems natural enough to me (if we’re talking about, say, a dermatologist or a psychotic kidnapper with a strange fetish). –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 30 '13 at 8:19
    
@JanusBahsJacquet- Who is saying anything about at being unnatural? –  Jim Aug 30 '13 at 8:31
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OP's words aren't something most of us are ever likely to say. I'm unlikely to be confronted by an armed assailant. Even if I were, I expect he'd point the gun at my body, not my face.

But like many parents, I'll have said "Stop waving that [toy] gun in my face!" often enough, and I suppose that's the preposition I'd go for in other constructions.

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