Rantings of a sub-editor

March 30, 2010

Oh, those cheeky prepositions!

Filed under: die from/of,grammar — substuff @ 5:41 pm

Well I brought this upon myself and I won’t pretend otherwise.
I asked for questions – and boy, did I get them.

Young Mr Ball at the Bureau of Investigative Hackery twittered gleefully: ‘Tackle with/from/of. I know it’s “bored with” but “died of”? “died from”? “made of”? HELP.’

Well Mr Ball, the main thing to say is that it’s a big sticky mess – but you knew that already. So here goes. Perhaps not my wittiest ever post, but I hope it is at least useful to some.

I’m going for the ‘made of/with/from’ chestnut first, as it’s one that has been gently bothering me for a while. I couldn’t find a nice clean guide on this anywhere, so I have racked my brains (yes, I believe it is racked, not wracked) and come up with a working model. Well, it works for me, anyway… but I am certainly open to being further enlightened.

Use made of if the material retains its original properties: “the chair is made of wood.”
Use made from if the material’s original properties have changed: “paper is made from wood.”
Use made with to describe an addition to usual components – “Battenburg cake is made with ground almonds.” (I can’t think of any non-cooking example of when you would use this.)

‘Die’ was an easy one. Nice simple explanation in the OED:

the normal constructions are to die of (a malady, hunger, old age, etc) or to die from ( a wound, inattention, etc).

Anyone bored yet? And if so, are you bored with me, by me, or of me, you ungrateful beasts? If it’s the third, you have a regrettable tendency, so read on! According to Fowler’s:

The normal constructions are with with or with by: they were bored with being left alone in the country; he became bored with Patrick; they were bored by the party political broadcasts. A regrettable tendency has emerged in recent years to construe the verb with of.

And then there’s the old favourite, compare. It is almost always written as compared to, but almost always should be compared with. The former is only used to describe similarity, whereas the latter is used for contrasts and, well, comparisons.

Even The Times and the Guardian style guides agree:

The Times:
compare with/to compare with (the more common use) when differences or contrasts are the point – “compare the saints with the devils” or “compared with last year’s figures” etc; compare to for likenesses – “compare this image to a damsel fair”

compare to/with
The former means liken to, the latter means make a comparison: so unless you are specifically likening someone or something to someone or something else (eg Nothing Compares 2 U), use compare with. A former lord chancellor compared himself to Cardinal Wolsey because he believed he was like Wolsey; I might compare him with Wolsey to assess their relative merits

Ah, but that’s not the end of the story. There are more. Different from/to (not than, please), scared of/by… But surely, that’s enough for one day.


1 Comment »

  1. Ah, you refer to such delights as: "I want one of them (wunnadem) Twixes." But can you help with the following? A recent conversation ran something like:Brave: "Oh, Twixes are marvellous and I have many."Me: "Yes, I must get some of them."Brave: "You mean 'I must get some of those.'"Me: [hiss, spit, biff, bash… etc…] Anyway, I digress. My question is: when should you say "I have some of those" and when "I have some of them"? Or is the latter always wrong?

    Comment by substuff — March 30, 2010 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

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