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Thread: causes

    • Join Date: Mar 2009
    • Posts: 55


    Hello there,

    If I want to say something about the cause of something, which preposition should I use? 'from' or 'by'?

    for example:

    "I got sick from/by eating too many cake"
    "No one ever got rich from/by selling vacuum cleaners"
    "The CIA managed to track down the drug lord by bugging his telephone"
    (in that last example, 'by' seemed the most suitable preposition to me)

    And does the choice of these prepositions matter if I dropped the verb? As in:

    "I got sick from that cake we ate last night" (Although I could be mistaken, my gut tells me that 'by' doesn't go well here)

    I'm awaiting your illuminating responses

  1. Member
    English Teacher
    • Member Info
      • Native Language:
      • Polish
      • Home Country:
      • Poland
      • Current Location:
      • Poland

    • Join Date: Aug 2005
    • Posts: 327

    Re: causes

    It a very interesting question:)

    the way I explain it to myself : by indicates action - applied as means to achieve something: by selling vacuum-cleaners , by bugging his phone

    from simply indicates a cause -it doesn't ell us about any purpose, eating you didn't eat a cake to get sick, it caused sickness accidentally.

    Of course this explanation could be entirely wrong.

    • Join Date: Mar 2009
    • Posts: 55

    Re: causes

    Thanks magdalena, for your explanation.
    I do seem to find a lot of examples on the net that support your theory.
    But I would feel a little bit better after I'll have heard some opinions from other people on this too, matter of stringing more and more answers together in order to draw the big conclusion :)

    • Join Date: Mar 2009
    • Posts: 55

    Re: causes

    Hi everyone,
    lately, the old problem with causes (using either 'by' or 'from' to talk about a cause) arose again.

    I still seem to mix them up a lot
    As Magdalena explained to me some while ago, 'by' is used when you speak of the cause of something you intended to happen. As with one of my examples from earlier:
    "the CIA managed to track down the drug lord by bugging his phone"
    The CIA intently bugged his phone in order to track down the drug lord.

    But what if I say the following:
    "I learned most of my English by watching television"
    Does the use of 'by' here imply that I watch television solely to learn English? (When I follow Magdalena's rule, it would indeed)
    And when I "accidently" learn English when watching television should I then better rephrase this and say:
    "I learned most of my English from watching television"

    So, in short: what is the rule for discussing a cause that was triggered by a conscient action and the rule for a cause that was triggered by an unintended action?


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