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General Writing and Grammar Help/Hold a gun "to/at" someone's head

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Question
Dear Ted,
I know there is an expression "hold a gut to someone's head". Can you also say "hold a gun at someone's head"? In other words, in the following sentences, must I use the word "to" or can I also use the word "at"?
1. My parents always hold a gun "to/at" my head.
2. I only married you because my parents put a gun "to/at" my head.
3. If there wasn't a gun "to/at" my head, I wouldn't have hired you.
4. I wouldn't marry you even if there was a gun "to/at" my head.

Answer
Dear Glen:

I know there is an expression "hold a gut to someone's head". Can you also say
"hold a gun at someone's head"? In other words, in the following sentences, must
I use the word "to" or can I also use the word "at"?

*** First, in your first sentence, I am sure that you mean "gun" instead of "gut."

You can hold a gun AT someone's head, but the usual expression is TO someone's head.

1. My parents always hold a gun "to/at" my head.

TO is better than AT.

2. I only married you because my parents put a gun "to/at" my head.

ONLY TO can be used.

3. If there wasn't a gun "to/at" my head, I wouldn't have hired you.

USE EITHER.

4. I wouldn't marry you even if there was a gun "to/at" my head.

USE EITHER.

*** The second sentence is different, because of the verb "put."   Your parents are PUTTING the gun TO something, not AT something.

"Hold" means that the gun is in place.  "Put" means that an action has just been made.

You can HOLD a book in your hands.  [non action]

You can PUT a book on the table.  [action]

*** I realize that I am using "non action" in a special way.  I'm trying to say that the action of REACHING for the book has already taken place.  Now, you are holding it "steady."


I hope this makes sense.

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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