"Lean on Me" vs. "Lean On Me"

(this thread was spurred by edit #45605933)
“Lean on” is a phrasal verb in many contexts, but to me it seems like a prepositional phrase in this context. Anyone have any idea which capitalization is correct?

I think AzoreanGigolo kind of nailed it in the message before you started this.

If it was used like the physical act such as “Lean on a Chair”, you would be correct. But here the meaning is synonymous to “Depend On Me” and in that context, On is part of the verb phrase.

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I was going to reply but then I saw Cheezmo’s reply stating almost what I was going to say.
Anyways, in contribution to the discussion, Lean On here can of course have 2 meanings:
Physically leaning on somebody
Depending on somebody

But I don’t see ‘on’ being a a preposition in this case nor is ‘on me’ a prepositional phrase.


Not that it’s the final word, but Wikipedia and most versions shown in a google search have “Lean on Me”.

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I agree with Cheezmo and AzoreanGigolo. In this instance “lean on” is used in a figurative sense meaning “depend upon” (see the entry at wiktionary), rather than a literal sense, such as in “lean on a chair”.

(c) Short prepositions (three letters or less): as, at, by, for, in, of, on, to, but, cum, mid, off, per, qua, re, up, via – except when used as adverbs or as an inseparable part of a verb (as in “Plug In Baby” or “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”).

To me the exception in 2(c) of the guidelines is not entirely clear. Is “an inseparable part of a verb” generally interpreted to mean “part of a phrasal verb” ?
This is what several editors have implied to me without stating it outright.

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I’m not sure “Plug In Baby” and “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” are exactly the same situation; especially for the latter, if “on” was read as a preposition the meaning would change drastically (“illuminate” rather than “continue being great”) and so is obviously an inseparable part of the verb – the former’s harder to describe, but I feel (perhaps incorrectly) that it’s in the same category. Either way, “Lean on Me” doesn’t have that same unity. Yeah, it’s a figurative sense that is pretty strongly tied to that particular preposition, but the “on” is still clearly a preposition. It doesn’t matter that “lean” has a less traditional meaning, “on” doesn’t change the core meaning of roughly “receive support from”.

Basically, I think “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is correct in all caps, but “Lean on Me” shouldn’t be.


I tend to agree. “Shine On” is a verb phrase unto itself, and the title had the sense of “Shine On, You Crazy Diamond” not “Shine On You, Crazy Diamond”. Similarly the verb phrase Act Up has a distinct meaning. You’re not acting in an upward direction.

In lean on, whether literal or figurative, you are performing the action/verb “lean” to the object/noun “me”.

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Metre obviously plays a role, but “Shine on you crazy diamond” is sung with a pause between “on” and “you”, so the emphasis is definitely on the phrasal verb. Anyway, English capitalisation rules are obviously stupid. :wink:

Bonus xkcd:


FWIW I think it does look a bit better with “on” lowercased.
Some other similar examples from the database:
“Stand by Me”
“Take On Me”

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IMO both of those should be capitalised:

That said, there’s no dictionary entry for “lean on” - it’s just a preposition here, I’d say, and should be lowercased.


Again, I don’t personally think that “this verb-preposition combination has a particular meaning” means “the phrase is an inseparable verb” if that meaning is still obviously related metaphorically to the verb on its own. “Stand by” (whether “support” from the “stand beside” sense, or “aloof” from “stand still”) definitely fits into that category, and I wouldn’t capitalize it. Even so, if the rest of y’all don’t see it that way, I’ll be happy enough to go with yours.

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Hmmm, you might actually be right in this specific case:

Suggests while most stand by uses are adverbial this is prepositional.


"stand by me"
The singer is inviting their beloved to seek shelter ("whenever you’re in trouble) in the region of the singer. This meaning is not conveyed by the phrase “stand by” as defined by the dictionary entries above. Rather the the singer is offering shelter and specifying the location of that shelter. cf “Stand under the umbrella”.


Returning to “lean on me”:
If the song was titled and sung “lean on the table for support” then “on” would be lower-case? I think yes.
However “we all need some-one to lean on” indicates a meaning of “Rely on or derive support from”.

Is this meaning far enough away from “lean on the table for support” to be treated differently?
(Oxford is calling it a “phrasal verb”.)
If yes then this difference takes “on” away from specifying where the leaning is to be done and into part of a phrasal verb “Lean On”.

Is the presence of “lean on” as a phrasal verb in the Oxford website good evidence of a sufficient difference. I’m thinking probably “yes”.

If it’s not good evidence then what would be good evidence?

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