Aug 3, 2009

"Look to" vs. "Look at"

Cage match!

This is fairly mysterious to me, since it seems so clear, but I recognize that prepositions can be horrible beasts.

So. When you have your eyes, and you have somebody standing in front of you, and your eyes are registering that person, you are looking at them. You are not looking to them.

I suspect this might be an issue in Southern USA speech? This is a bare-bones hypothesis based on the fact that the two authors who I've seen use this regularly are both from the South, so it's probably wrong, but it's the best I've got so far. If this does turn out to be a regional dialect thing, then more power to it.

However. If you do say this, you should realize that it's going to sound very odd to a lot of readers. Looking to has a very specific meaning which is going to short-circuit with what you're trying to say and cause them anxiety. When you look to somebody, you're seeking their support and guidance, not just registering them visually:
  • Benji Rat looked at me, wondering if I had a treat.
  • Benji Rat couldn't reach his treat dish, so he looked to me for a boost.
Do you say "looked to" in the first context? If so, tell me everything.

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