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I have never been able to spot the difference between throw and toss.

For instance, both of these sentences make perfect sense to me:

He is going to toss a rock at you.

He is going to throw a rock at you.

How should I know when to use one or the other?

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  • 5
    As the others say, "toss" implies launching the projectile at a lower velocity, possibly with an "underhand" motion. "Throw" implies a more forceful launch of the projectile, probably "overhand". But the distinction is not etched in stone, and the words are, to a degree, interchangeable. Eg, one might either "throw" or "toss" a towel to someone who requests one, and neither would be considered "odd".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:46
  • @HotLicks I agree.
    – WS2
    Nov 7, 2015 at 20:54
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    I agree with @HotLicks, but with the change of implies to suggests (which is anyway what the rest of that comment says).
    – Drew
    Nov 7, 2015 at 21:30
  • a toss is a soft throw
    – NES
    Nov 7, 2015 at 22:04
  • Toss is more often used with "to" instead of "at."
    – Jason Chen
    Nov 7, 2015 at 22:46

2 Answers 2

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Toss has a more casual, lighter, connotation than throw which is a more powerful and deliberate action.

One tosses a towel to one's club mate in the dressing room, but out on the field of play one throws the ball hard in from the boundary.

Toss to me always suggests an underarm movement, whilst throw involves the full overarm action.

This is only an approximate answer to the question and there are no hard and fast rules. You may well hear usages which do not conform exactly to what I have said.

Toss also has some sexual and slang connotations but no point in going into those here.

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  • "...but no point in going into those here" except that I've never heard someone described as having "thrown their cookies".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 7, 2015 at 21:00
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    "He climbed to the top of the tower and threw himself off" is a description of suicide in British English. The corresponding phrase with the other verb would have a completely different meaning. Be cautious with the word 'toss' in Britain. Nov 7, 2015 at 21:35
  • +1 for 'This is only an approximate answer to the question and there are no hard and fast rules. You may well hear usages which do not conform exactly to what I have said.'! (I'm imagining a casual, lighter toss of a caber. I suppose it's a bit naughty to mention 'tossing a party / wobbly / precipitate.' Nov 7, 2015 at 22:13
  • I think the distinction has more to do with the trajectory than the motion. High arc, low speed = toss, low arc, high speed = throw. Nov 8, 2015 at 2:02
  • @LorenPechtel As Edwin has mentioned the event in the Highland Games known as Tossing the Caber does belie much of what we have been saying!
    – WS2
    Nov 8, 2015 at 6:18
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You can toss someone a rock (so that person can examine it, for instance), but you throw a rock at someone to hurt them.

toss: to throw something, especially something light, with a quick gentle movement of your hand

In addition, toss often implies an upward motion:

toss: to throw upward

(AHD)

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  • But the "at" is also important. Throwing something to someone is very different to throwing it at someone.
    – Chris H
    Nov 8, 2015 at 8:15
  • @ChrisH Of course. And "throw up" is something else entirely.
    – A.P.
    Nov 8, 2015 at 8:46

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