“Shout at” and “shout to”: prepositions can change meaning

Let’s look at how using a different preposition changes the meaning of some verbs.

Our example is the verb shout.

Definition of shout

Shout means ‘raise your voice – usually as much as possible’.

There’s one meaning, but we have two main reasons for shouting:

  • to make ourselves heard
  • to show strong emotion.

Unfortunately, with shout in English it’s not always clear what the reason was. That’s why adding a preposition can be useful.

Why did he shout?

He shouted. OK, but was he angry or did he simply want to be heard?

Add a preposition – say either shout at or shout to – and the meaning becomes clear.

Shout at

This suggests that we’re angry.

  • The receptionist decided to leave because the boss often shouted at her.
  • Please don’t shout at me: calm down and speak normally.

Shout to

When we shout to someone, we want them to hear us. They might be on the other side of the street, or a distance from us in a noisy place.

  • She shouted to me from the upstairs window.
  • I shouted to them across the busy road, but they didn’t hear me.

Hopefully those examples show the difference clearly.

What about this guy: do you think he’s shouting to someone or at someone?

shout at shout to difference

Throw to and throw at

Throw to and throw at follow the same pattern as shout to and shout at:

  • My teammate threw the ball to me, but I dropped it.
  • Protestors threw eggs at the President and his colleagues.
Don't throw that snowball at me!

Don’t throw that snowball at me!

Summary

There’s nothing wrong with using shout without a preposition. Just remember that the meaning may not always be clear.

Stuart is an English teacher and runs the Speakspeak website. He currently lives in Prague and has been teaching for over 20 years. See all posts by Stuart

1 Comment

  1. Aino - November 27, 2016, 8:23 pm Reply

    I used to use the expression “get back to you” quite often in business emails. Writing quickly, I used to be insecure about whether it is “get back at you” instead, so I had to look up the difference again, and again. Finally, I made a connection with what I had heard in the US quite often: “backatcha” which often felt quite aggressive. Needless to say I did not want to tell a customer I get back at him or her, so I was quite relieved when that difference was cleared up, once and for all. Thanks for a couple more examples! That “at” is one dangerous preposition in communications! 😉

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