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Why do we need the preposition 'in' or 'on'? Can't we simply say "He hit my head."?

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  • This is a seemingly very simple question, but I couldn't come up with even a quick comment, let alone the framework for a properly detailed answer. Even claiming that he hit me on the head is a short way of saying he hit me on the top of my head is unsatisfactory when you could also just say he hit the top of my head. It might be as simplistic as saying almost everything can be expressed in different words, and that's just how language evolves, but I keep thinking there's a more direct answer than that. I just can't think of it. – Jason Bassford Apr 30 '20 at 2:52
  • I'm curious if this boils down to Why do we have multiple ways of expressing the same thing? or if it really is specific to this one type of phrase—or prepositions in general. The short answer is we don't need the preposition in this example. But it also seems to me (in a way I can't express) that it's more than merely superfluous. – Jason Bassford Apr 30 '20 at 2:55
  • You can use all three. "In" and "on" have slightly different connotations, but too subtle to define outside of a specific context. – Hot Licks Apr 30 '20 at 2:59
  • Does it sound natural to just say 'He hit my head' without the preposition in/on? Among the three, which sentence would you use? – mizumiki17 Apr 30 '20 at 3:02
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    @mizumiki17 Both of those baseball bat sentences are equally likely and meaningful. – Jason Bassford Apr 30 '20 at 3:17
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He hit my head

He hit me on the head

He hit me in the head

Yes, you can say it without the preposition. In this case, the preposition shows the reader where it happens. Here, the preposition is entirely optional, and all three are fully understandable.

Let's look at each one:

  • He hit my head

    Here the reader knows that he hit your head, but the reader does not know where it happened.

  • He hit me on the head

    Here, the reader knows exactly where he hit your head. He hit your head on the top of it (just where your hair is).

  • He hit me in the head

    Here, the reader knows where he hit your head, but not as precisely as the other one. It could mean anywhere on your head (inside your head, on the left, on top, anywhere!)

And finally, I hope your head gets well soon :)

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