Published: 31st July 2021
English Blues: No child's play: decoding the nuances of ‘with’
One of the most frequestly used words in the English language has a multitude of bewildering uses. Here's a list of ALL of them, and how not to get them all muddled up
Customer: What is the bread roll in the shape of a ring called?
Sales assistant: It is called ‘bagel’.
Customer: Bagel? I’d like to buy a bagel with cream cheese.
Sales assistant: Sorry, we only take cash.
What does the sentence I’d like to buy a bagel with cream cheese” mean? It is ambiguous. That is, it has two different meanings. The first meaning, which is implied by the customer, is that the customer wants a bagel on which cream cheese is applied. Here is another example with that sense of the word: I had bread with peanut butter for my breakfast. The second meaning, as understood by the sales assistant, is that the customer wants to buy a bagel in exchange for cream cheese. Here are more examples with that sense of the word:
- I bought some gold coins with bitcoin.
- I asked him to buy a laptop with his own money.
Witness: The woman killed the rapist with an axe.
Police officer: Do you mean that the rapist had an axe?
Witness: No, sir. The woman had an axe and she killed him with it.
The sentence “The woman killed the rapist with an axe” is ambiguous. It can mean that the woman killed the rapist by means of an axe and the phrase “the rapist with an axe” can mean that the rapist had the instrument.
‘With’ is one of the most frequently used words in English. What does it mean? Does it have just one meaning? It has multiple meanings (word senses). Learners of English who do not have adequate exposure to the language have the tendency to think that words have limited meanings or word senses.
The word ‘with’ has multiple word senses. Here are examples:
1. by means of; using
- He cut the vegetables with a blunt knife.
2. in the company of; being together in one place
- What’s the name of the person who was with you in the restaurant?
- The old man with a long beard thinks that he is wise.
4. in spite of
- With all her wealth she is not happy.
5. used to indicate a time or distance by which something is away from something else
- With ten minutes to go, she completed her presentation.
6. caused or prompted by
- The woman is trembling with cold.
7. opposing someone
- We fought with the traffic police as he stopped our vehicle for no reason.
8. having an illness
- All the patients with coronavirus have been shifted to a different ward.
9. having a particular feeling towards someone
- She is annoyed with everyone.
10. carrying something
- Please call the person who goes round with a juice container and glasses.
11. working for
- My cousin has been with Indigo Airlines since 2015.
12. sharing the same opinion
- I'm with you there
In each of the sentences above, the word ‘with’ has a different word sense. It is based on the context and the hints in the sentence we arrive at the correct meaning. Therefore, it is important to have sufficient exposure to the language.