pulling a rope/ pulling on/at a rope?


Senior Member

I want to know the difference between saying, pulling something and pulling at/on something

for an example,

1. In tug of war, two teams pull a rope in opposite directions.

2. In tug of war, two teams pull at a rope in opposite directions.

Could you explain to me the difference?

I looked it up on oxford learner's dictionary found some more examples.. but really didn't get the difference!

thanks in advance :)
  • PaulQ

    English - England
    1. In tug of war, two teams pull a rope in opposite directions. -> This is correct.

    2. In tug of war, two teams pull at a rope in opposite directions.-> this is incorrect for two separate reasons:
    1. to pull at can be understood as a phrasal verb meaning to give repeated short, sharp tugs to something
    2. If to pull at is not considered a phrasal verb, then at is a preposition and states the place that the pulling is being done as the same place as where the rope is. This can mean that the rope is tied to two trees and the teams pull the rope at 90 degrees to the rope.

    Your question is badly phrased. The definition is incomplete. If you completed the definition, then the phrase "in opposite directions" would have some meaning.


    Senior Member
    Hi PaulQ, thanks for the replay, I think I understand what you are saying... but I still don't understand the difference.

    when I googled tug of war, it says a contest in which two teams pull at opposite ends of a rope until one drags the other over a central line.

    but If i said pull at ends of a rope in opposite direction. would it make sense?

    here is another example I found on oxford dictionary,

    She pulled at his sleeve to get his attention.

    what the difference between saying pulled at his sleeve and pulled his sleeve?

    Is there a difference or both mean the same thing?



    Senior Member
    English - US
    Two teams pull on/at a rope in opposite directions. The both pull on/at the rope. You can pull on/at something without moving it. During the contest, the rope often goes one way and then the other so one team pulls the rope (moving it in the direction that they are pulling) while the other team pulls on it (not moving it in the direction they are pulling). At the end of the contest, the rope has effectively only been pulled in one direction even though both teams pulled on the rope.
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