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What's the difference between using と and を in the sentence below:

「食べる」と紙に書いてくれた

「食べる」を紙に書いてくれた

They both mean, He wrote "eat" on the paper

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The latter is wrong. You should use quotative-と because 食べる is what is concretely written on paper. ~を書く is okay when the object is something abstract such as 文字, 漢字, 手紙 and 物語.

EDIT: Actually, as @broccoliforest pointed out, 「食べる」を書く is also acceptable in a rare context where the "message" or "content" is not relevant. If you say 「食べる」を書く, it sounds like the focus is on the appearance of the characters rather than the message conveyed by 食べる. For example, you may hear this when you are talking with your calligraphy teacher about how to write 食べる correctly with a brush. Although 「食べる」を書く is unrealistic in practice, you may safely say something like this:

練習のために平仮名の「め」を100回書いた。
I wrote the hiragana 'ME' 100 times for practice.

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    その字・言葉・形などが話題になっているのであれば「を」もいけそうだと思います。「綺麗な『食べる』を書いてくれた」とか。 – broccoli facemask - cloth Mar 4 at 10:21
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    @broccoliforest ややこしくなるので触れませんでしたが「ありがとうと言う」「ありがとうを言う」も両方ありますね… – naruto Mar 4 at 13:28
  • @broccoliforest 話題になっているってどういう意味?具体的にどうすれば話題になるの? – Newbie Mar 5 at 8:09
  • Following @broccoliforest comment, I take it that in my example sentence, 「食べる」can also be a topic? Or in order for it to be a topic, it has to be a tangible thing? For example, adding a 字 to get「食べる」字 . Whereas just pure 「食べる」 is never a topic (since it is intangible) – Newbie Mar 5 at 8:13
  • @Newbie ここで言っているのは文法的な話題(主題)ではないので、具体的にどうすればとは言いにくいですが、「会話の文脈の中で注目されていることがその字〜である時」みたいな感じです。 – broccoli facemask - cloth Mar 5 at 8:16

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