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My car manual says:

To prevent damage, NEVER hit or pull on the head restraints.

I understand pull on here as pull towards yourself, because it is the only way I can imagine the head restraints can be damaged.

I wonder if there is any difference between pull on and just pull. What is the additional semantics of on here or is it just redundant?

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    It's actually a halfway decent question, and in part the answer is "because that's the way it is". But, as a first approximation, "pull on" (and "push on") means to apply force without (necessarily) moving the object, while "pull" (or "push") means to move an object by applying force to it. (But that's only an approximation. This one case where idiom dictates the wording to a large degree.)
    – Hot Licks
    Dec 17, 2015 at 22:53
  • Sometimes "because that's the way it is" may be equivalent to "I don't know". Are there any counterexamples to the answer provided below? Dec 21, 2015 at 17:19

1 Answer 1

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You can, for example, pull a sled by pulling on a rope attached to the sled.

If you pull on an object, you are making contact with that object and applying force to it.

Pulling an object can be less direct.

Here are some examples of "pull on" where it is used to indicate where force is applied:

Crocheting Clothes Kids Love, Shelby Allaho et all, p42:

Pull on tail end of yarn to close ring.

Perspectives on Animal Behavior, Judith Goodenough et all, p93:

"When [Ravens] pull on food, such as the entrails of a dead animal, they eat the food while pulling.

Storey's Guide to Training Horses, Heather Smith Thomas p199:

If a young horse starts to bolt,the worst thing to do is pull on the reins

Even so, it's probably not a good idea to tie a cord to the restraints and pull on the cord.

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    @AlexYursha But take care. Pull on has at least two idiomatic forms. Every morning as I pull on my socks, I notice the ugly wart on my big toe. (i.e. I put them on). But you could also say drenched to the skin, I had to pull on my socks to get them off. They represent two rather different senses of pull on.
    – WS2
    Dec 17, 2015 at 19:14
  • It still matches the semantics of me applying force to something directly for whatever purpose (versus pull which may mean indirect force). But thanks for the nice catch that pull on may mean the opposite things! :) Dec 17, 2015 at 22:30

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