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I don't know if it's part of my regional dialect, but around these parts we use the phrase "pull to" to mean 'close the door all the way.' It wasn't until last week that it struck me as odd. Pull the door to...what? To itself?

I didn't find much explanation on pull to as a phrasal verb, but a friend pointed out that it was probably like "come to", which he always figured was reflexive and essentially a shortening of "come to one's senses".

So in terms of these two phrasal verbs, pull to and come to, are they reflexive? And if so, why does the object get dropped? Is that a usual occurrence or do these two examples represent some kind of unusual feature of English?

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    Are you in Pennsylvania, by any chance? My first thought is German influence via Pennsylvania Dutch (or similar). The to not being a preposition, but a separable prefix. – RegDwigнt Oct 15 '13 at 14:17
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    OED's first citation is from 1673, a stage direction "She pulls the door to." – Andrew Leach Oct 15 '13 at 14:26
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    @RegDwigнt I can't hazard its origins but my guess is this is a common expression, because my first thought was 'Are you in Yorkshire, by any chance?' "Pull the door to" (as an instruction to another) would be a good example of why it's perfectly Ok to end a sentence with a preposition. – Mynamite Oct 15 '13 at 15:29
  • FWIW, I have not heard this phrase in either the Midwest US or East Texas. – MrHen Oct 15 '13 at 16:04
  • In Norfolk (eastern county in England), they say 'he pulled the door to'. meaning that he didn't exactly shut the door but just closed it. I suppose it is part of standard Queen's English too, but in spite of having lived away from Norfolk for over 40 years it is one of those things I'm not certain about. Is it just a Norfolk idiom? Can anyone help me? Interestingly when they use it they pronounce the 'to' slightly differently to usual, they say 'tew'. Whereas they would say 'I went t'Norwich', although the 'to' is exactly the same word. – WS2 Oct 15 '13 at 16:47
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I believe it means pull to "close". I also found this: "Anticausative" reflexive denotes that the (usually inanimate) subject of the verb undergoes an action or change of state whose agent is unclear or nonexistent. The example that was given was "English - The door (was, got) opened." I believe this could apply to "pull to" or the phrase "pull to close" the door.

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Yes, this particular meaning is in the OED.

  1. Expressing contact (cf. A. 5): So as to come close against something; esp. with vbs. forming phrases denoting shutting or closing: see the vbs. Now arch. and colloq.

c1200 Trin. Coll. Hom. 181 Hie tuneð to hire fif gaten. ?c1225 (▸?a1200) Ancrene Riwle (Cleo. C.vi) (1972) 76 Schutteð þe þurlto. c1405 (▸c1390) Chaucer Miller's Tale (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 552 Te hee quod she, and clapte the wyndow to. 1534 Bible (Tyndale rev. Joye) Luke xiii. 25 When the good man of the housse..hath shett to the dore. 1620 J. Dyke in C. H. Spurgeon Treasury of David (1872) III. Ps. lxi. 2 This tower and rock were too high..and therefore he sets to the scaling ladder. a1625 J. Fletcher Mad Lover iii. ii, in F. Beaumont & J. Fletcher Comedies & Trag. (1647) sig. C2/1, Put to the doores. 1855 M. Gatty Parables 61 The banging of the door, blown to by a current of wind. 1898 G. B. Shaw Arms & Man in Plays Pleasant & Unpleasant 6 She goes out..and pulls the outside shutters to.

  • Thanks, but I wasn't asking about meaning. – Jarvis the Bot Oct 16 '13 at 11:20
  • @KitSox In your original post I am not quite sure what you mean by 'reflexive'. English doesn't have reflexive verbs in quite the way that French does. But I don't believe, based on the OED entry above, that there was ever an indirect object which has been dropped as you suggest may have been in 'come to (one's senses)'. I think that 'come to' should be regarded as an intransitive verb in its own right. It is clear that when it comes to shutting words, 'pull to' or 'clapte the wyndow to'go back further than Chaucer. – WS2 Oct 16 '13 at 12:29
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"Pull the door to" is a common expression in the Southeastern U.S. It isn't as common as it used to be but my generation still uses it and I'm in my 50's.

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