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Is it correct to write something along the lines of "She pointed me to a book of X." in the sense of "making me aware of it", "bringing it to my attention"?

  • Yes, it's pretty common. Another term often used is referred me to. – Barmar Jan 5 '15 at 22:39
  • Have you looked up the different usages of point? – Edwin Ashworth Jan 5 '15 at 22:53
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    @EdwinAshworth: My English dictionary lists 28 meanings of point, one is "point to" another is "point something at someone" but none is "point someone to something", but at the same time this sounds correct to me as a non-native speaker. – mbschenkel Jan 5 '15 at 23:08
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    @mbschenkel I've heard this from native speakers. A librarian might point you to the reference section. – Barmar Jan 5 '15 at 23:10
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    @Barmar Yes, you're quite right, they could well be said to 'point you to ...'. As Robert Forstag says at Kudoz, " 'Point us to the station' would be fine." 'Point someone to' is used both near-literally (meaning 'give someone directions to') and more metaphorically (point someone towards a good textbook, ie suggest one). Though I certainly wouldn't arrogate " 'Point me at is ungrammatical', it sounds incongruously literal to my UK ears. 'Point me towards' would work, but carries more of a 'first stage along the path' connotation. – Edwin Ashworth Jan 6 '15 at 1:28
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Not only is the form you ask about reasonably common today, but use of it goes back more than 200 years. From a letter to Mr. Urban dated September 12, in The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle (September 1808):

Now, to arrest the attention of my friends, and dispose the friends of others who may think with me, with your leave, I will point them to what I am contemplating, if I may use such a word in the present instance, allowing that I am inclined, with all becoming deportment, if possible, again to marry.

...

To be more plain, I would miss having, or l would have no slothful Miss, no indigent Miss, no careless Miss, no dissipated Miss, no imprudent Miss, no ugly Miss, no idle Miss, no deformed Miss, no ignorant Miss.

Should these epithets occur, and my friends point me to a widow, they will kindly recollect my discrimination, though they laugh at me.

From "An Interesting Anecdote," in Episcopal Magazine (June 1820):

He [an eleven-year-old orphan from London] answered, 'When I was a little boy, about seven years of age, I became a Sunday scholar in London ; through the kind attention of my master, I soon learnt to read my Bible : this Bible, young as I was, shewed me that I was a sinner, and a great one too ; it also pointed me to a Saviour ; and I thank God that I have found mercy at the hands of Christ, and am not ashamed to confess him before the world."

From a debate on July 9, 1832, recorded in U.S. Congress, Register of Debates in Congress (1832):

He [Mr. Stanberry] said that Mr. Macon had always presided with great dignity, and had always asserted the rights of order. He had never flattered or cringed to those in power, when he held the chair of that House. Hr had never shaped his course to suit the Executive will, with a view to getting an appointment to a high office abroad. Mr. S[tanberry] insisted that allusions to the opinions of the President were out of Order. I defy any gentleman, said he, to point me to a single decision to the contrary, until you presided over this body. And let me say that I have heard the remark frequently made, that the eyes of the Speaker are too frequently turned from the chair you occupy toward the White House.

All of these examples (and many later ones turned up in Google Books searches for the phrases "point me to a" and "pointed me to a" for the period 1800–2008) use the "point [someone] to [something]" structure in essentially the same way that the example in your question does—to mean "make [someone] aware of [something]" or "direct [someone's] attention to [something]."


Update (February 4, 2020): Some much earlier examples of the phrasing

A search of the Early English Books Online database yields matches that go back to the sixteenth century. Here are a few examples from the 1500s and 1600s.

From Thomas Norton, An Addition Declaratorie to the Bulles, with a Searching of the Maze Scene and Allowed (1570):

Such are not like to felonies, treason and offēders that they know, but they are like vnto those that when a felon or traitor is pursued, do helpe to hide hym, and conuey him into bie corners, and for the felons or traytors easier escape doe tell them that pursue hym that he is gone a contrarie way or geue them contrarie markes to kéepe them from knowing and attachyng him, or point them to a wrong persone while the very théefe or traitor may make shift for him selfe, yea and lend him some of their own clothes to disguise hym.

From Henry Smith, "A Looking Glasse for Christians," reprinted in The sermons of Maister Henrie Smith gathered into one volume (1593):

Touching the first point, the forbidden tree seemed to Eue a tree to bee desired, because it would teach them knowledge. Nature taught her that knowledge was a thing to be desired: Though the Serpent pointed her to a wrōg tree. For in deed the tree of life was the tree of knowledge. and when they went to the other tree, they chaunged their knowledge for ignorance, as they chaunged their holines for wickednes.

From Thomas Heywood, The Hierarchie of the Blessed Angells Their Names, Orders and Offices the Fall of Lucifer with His Angells (1635):

Now hauing sufficiently discoursed of Death, I will point you to a contented life, out of one of Martials Epigrams, not without great elegancie thus deliuered vnto vs: ...

From John Hall, Emblems with Elegant Figures (ca. 1648):

Oh for a Moses that would make / This rock of mine dissolve and break / To a clear stream where I might lie / Exempt from all this misery, / And bathe. Oh would some Angel sit / And point me to a welcom pit.

And from Richard Carpenter, The Pragmatical Jesuit (ca. 1665):

Lucifer. I swell into the Mountain Olympus. O, how I swell! I shall burst asunder: And there's a dreadfull tempest in my stomack. How, and where shall I empty my self? I know not where to bestow my troubled stomack, and my seditious belly. O good Females help me. O some kind body, point me to a secret place. O.

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Yes, this is a pretty common usage. See Wiktionary.

  1. (transitive) To direct or encourage (someone) in a particular direction. If he asks for food, point him toward the refrigerator.
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Definition: Point as a verb merriam-webster: to show someone where to look by moving your finger or an object held in your hand in a particular direction. Example:point the way to new knowledge — Elizabeth Hall

Used in the sense of 'towards', there this Example construction: merriam-webster: We can leave when the minute hand points to 12.

Standard idiomatic usage says:

  • point to {something}

Expression: "She pointed me to a book of X."

Correct usage: 'point to {something}'

Here, {Something} = 'book of X'

However, there is another object ('me') to consider.

The plausible construction is: [Subject] [pointed to] [Small Object] [Something]

In conclusion, the 'to' is not for 'me' but for the verb 'point' and the object 'book'. Idiomatically, there is no better place to insert the other object 'me' in that sentence other than 'point to' and 'book'.


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  • I'm not sure if I've just overlooked it, but I can't seem to find the exact expression in the merriam-webster link you provide... Could you point me to it? :-) – mbschenkel Jan 14 '15 at 22:23
  • :D My pleasure. point -> verb ->transitive verb -> 4 a (2) : to direct someone's attention to <point the way to new knowledge — Elizabeth Hall> —usually used with out or up <point out a mistake> <points up the difference>. [merriam-webster.com/dictionary/point] – chatterji Jan 15 '15 at 4:37
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As others have indicated, the usage seems established, if only by dint of previous usage. However, I find it an awkward expression because it is imprecise, ambiguous (perhaps only to those of us who over-think), and requires interpretation.

The problem is with, “She pointed me...”

  1. Does it mean, “She physically re-positioned me (to face in a particular direction)? Probably not. But, if it did, why not just say that, i.e., “She turned me to (toward) book X on a table.

  2. Does it mean, “She directed my attention; she suggested (something or other)"? Probably. So why not just say that?

In other words, the precise meaning of the sentence is delayed until the word “to” is integrated with “she pointed...” The “me” is unnecessary and confuses (to some, admittedly slight, degree) the point of the sentence. What is gained by its inclusion? What is lost by its exclusion?

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