General Writing and Grammar Help/Set fire - set on fire

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Question
Dear Ted:

Is there a difference between "to set fire to something" and "to set something on fire"?

If so, when should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

Many, many thanks for your kind help.

Paolo

Answer
Dear Paolo:

Is there a difference between "to set fire to something" and "to set something on fire"?

If so, when should I use each of them?

Would you please give me some examples?

*** I do not see a significant difference between the two.  I suppose that some people would argue that "setting fire TO something" means you are bringing the fire to the thing that you want to burn.  But, "setting something on fire," even though the "bringing" idea is not there, ultimately says the same thing.  I believe they are synonymous.

EXAMPLES:

My neighbor set fire to a large pile of trash.

My neighbor set a large pile of trash on fire.

After the criminal gathered all the evidence that might convict him, he poured gasoline on it and set fire to everything.

The thief set everything he took in the robbery on fire.

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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