In CIC [the Cambridge International Corpus], cater for is more than 100 times as frequent in British texts as in American; cater to is 3 times as frequent in American texts as in British. In the sense "provide food (at a party)" British prefers cater for or possibly cater at; American also uses the verb transitively: cater a party.What can I add to that? Just that catering is used more broadly in BrE than in AmE. For instance, a Scrabble comrade describes herself as working in catering. In AmE, I'd expect that to mean that she is an events caterer--someone who shows up to feed people at parties and conferences. In BrE, it means that she works in the food branch of the hospitality industry. In her case, catering is the department of the university that's responsible for the cafés/tea bars/restaurants on site.
Since Algeo so neatly took care of that case of verb complementation, I should move on to another challenge: a complementation difference that Algeo missed. John (coming to us through the Association of British Scrabble Players) writes to say:
One phrase not yet covered (as far as I can tell) isJohn, come and be one of my students--I love the ones who do a bit of research before coming in with a question. Ten (BrE) marks/(AmE) points for laying the groundwork! Let's start by comparing beat and beat up:
beat up on = to attack physically or verbally (Websters 11th Collegiate). This strikes me (oops no pun intended) as exclusively North American, the equivalent British phrase being "beat up"Where does the "on" come from? It appears to be a relatively recent addition. The 1937 version of Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition Unabridged lists only "beat up" - (sense b) Slang to thrash (a person) esp. soundly.
(1) Batman beat the Joker(1) is ambiguous. It either means that Batman struck the Joker or that Batman won against the Joker. (2) indicates that Batman physically beat the Joker until some conclusion was reached--i.e. the Joker soundly thrashed. This involves the completive particle up, which we've seen before. The OED notes that beat up is originally AmE, and the first example of it (in an O. Henry story) is from 1907. Next year we can celebrate its hundredth birthday in print, then.
(2) Batman beat up the Joker.
Then there's beat on:
(3) Batman beat on the Joker(3) sounds odd in many dialects, but (4), with an inanimate object, sounds better. If we use beat on with an animate object as in (3), it can sound like the object is not so animate--perhaps the Joker is unconscious or otherwise being very passive about being beaten. (Note that the participial form is beaten in standard BrE and AmE, but can be beat in informal and non-standard contexts, as in the AmE phrase It can't be beat = 'it's the best'.) On also seems to give a more repetitive connotation--it's the same spot on the door/the Joker that is being struck repeatedly. Batman beat the door/Joker sounds a bit more like the door/Joker is being struck all over.
(4) Batman beat on the door.
So, now we come to the one that John wondered about:
(5) Batman beat up on the Joker (AmE)Here we get both some completiveness from up and some impugned inanimacy from on. (Or at least, this is my reading of the situation.) Here, Batman pretty soundly (AmE dialectal) whupped the Joker, but the Joker didn't offer much resistance. As John's dictionary quotation indicates, this is often used figuratively. So, if you don't agree with what I've said here, you can beat up on my ideas in the comments section. I'll be passive about it in the sense that I probably won't be on-line to defend myself when you comment. But if you say something cleverer than what I've said here, I'll only thank you for the beating. After all, blogging is a form of intellectual masochism.