tug on/at

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Senior Member
‘Actually,’ said Charlie, tugging on his ear, which was what he did when he felt a bit awkward or shy. (She already knew that about him.
Source: Three Wishes by Liane Moriarty

Do you tug on your ear or at your ear? Are they both right and interchangeable?

How is the the transitive meaning differs from the intransitive use? I tugged my ear versus i tugged on/at (?) my ear?

tug: to pull something hard, often several times.

Thank you.
  • Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    You tug on your ear. "Tug on" seems to be used for single things that are easy to grip, such as ears, ropes and handles. Tugging "at" something is more of a grasping action to get hold of whatever bits of it you can, such as hair, grass, weeds or tree roots.

    Tug used transitively is a definite pull. Adding a preposition includes the action of moving your hand to your ear, and the pull could be very gentle indeed (as is presumably the case here).
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