What's the difference between "tend" and "tend to" somebody/something? (concerning the meaning of the word in the sense of caring/attending)

I have read the definition by Oxford dictionaries, which state: VERB [with object] "Care for or look after; give one's attention to" Example: "Varela tended plants on the roof"

[no object] "ambulance crews were tending to the injured"

I have three questions about this verb.

  1. When do you use "tend" and "tend to" respectively? What's the difference in meaning between them?

  2. The Oxford dictionary gave one example with object and one without. When should you use object and when not for this verb?

  3. What things can you "tend" or "tend to"? For example, can you tend / tend to a life / people's lives?

Thanks for any explanations!

  • Good questions. Off the top of my head, I'd say they're 'fairly close synonyms': often interchangeable with little change in meaning. 'Tend to' probably echoes 'minister to' and thus is a better fit for 'the injured', especially since it seems to carry a slight sense of urgency. 'Tend' seems a better fit for a steady, ongoing 'looking after' role, as with the plants. /You can pick objects (direct or prepositional) that fit with these notions (tend to the badly wounded; tend the bar). I'd choose 'tend to the fire' if it needed more wood on right away, and 'tend' for the less punctive situation. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 9:59
  • 2
    Although the question is not unclear, you may want to explicitly include that you are not asking about tend to = "have a tendency to" or tend to = "approach asymptotically".
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 10:22
  • You can tend a garden, you can tend to a person, but I don't think you can tend a person. Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 2:31
  • Thanks a lot! Can you tend or tend to a life?
    – yablr35
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 13:11

1 Answer 1


Collins gives the following explanation:

If you tend someone or something, you do what is necessary to keep them in a good condition or to improve their condition.


If you tend to someone or something, you pay attention to them and deal with their problems and needs.

  • Aren't these definitions very similar? Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 12:09

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