Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What is the difference between "on doing", "by doing", and "in doing"?

A difficult point to French learners of English as in all three cases, you would say "en faisant".

Example sentences, taken from the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English:

What was your reaction on seeing him?

Howard had put his own life in danger in trying to protect the Queen.

She earns her living by selling insurance.

share|improve this question
1  
Please visit English Language Learners –  Kris Dec 5 '13 at 12:47
    
Prepositions are typically weak meaning words, in the sense that some can be interchanged with little loss in meaning. –  tylerharms Dec 5 '13 at 13:06
    
And also correspondences between the usages of French say and English prepositions are not one-to-one but often fairly unpredictable. –  Edwin Ashworth Dec 5 '13 at 15:22
    
Ok, got it, Kris. So, I will save my trickiest questions – where even native speakers of English might be at a loss – for this website and ask the others on the website you redirected me to! Provided I can work out such questions… –  user58319 Dec 5 '13 at 16:33
    
Of course, Edwin. Would not life be dull if languages allowed for (?) literal translations… ! –  user58319 Dec 5 '13 at 16:42

1 Answer 1

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The difference between "on leaving" on the one hand and "by selling" and "in trying" on the other hand is easy: "on leaving" is to do with time and means "when you saw him", whereas "by selling" and "in trying" are to do with the cause and effect relationship. But there is a difference: by = she sells insurance in order to earn a living, it is her aim, it is a means to an end; in = Howard does not try to protect the Queen in order to put his own life in danger, it is just an occupational hazard for bodyguards, a side effect.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.