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Often people say,

he fell in with a bad crowd,

meaning that the person happened to form relationships with an undesirable peer group or group of people.

Does the term 'fall in with' always have negative connotations?

Could you:

Fall in with a group of classicists or knitters?

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You can 'fall in' with a group of soldiers if you are a soldier and starting a march. That's not negative per se –  Oldcat Jan 8 at 18:08

5 Answers 5

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Doesn't seem so. First of all it has another meaning

To agree with or be in harmony with

(TheFreeDictionary, near the end of page)

This meaning is obviously not negative

Returning to the meaning you had in mind. I didn't find any indication as to whether it is supposed to be always negative or not. It's nothing more than

To associate or begin to associate with

here or

Associate with, become acquainted with (especially by chance)

here From this definition fall in with implies accidental rather than negative nature of acquaintance.

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1  
Along the same lines as "fall into step with," I think. "I fell in with a bunch of programmer/linguist fetishists on the EL&U site" doesn't seem negative to me, but represents an appropriate usage. –  KitFox Jun 3 '11 at 14:28
    
@Kit Hey, we can't be that bad! –  Philoto Jun 3 '11 at 14:30

Short answer: No, fall in with doesn't always have negative connotations.

Long answer: Google returns tens of thousands of results for "fall/fell in with a good crowd", and it's pretty obvious they're not all ironic.

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This is much more persuasive than the answers above. Dictionary definitions don't always capture every nuanced implication of a meaning, so saying that the dictionary doesn't explicitly mention a negative connotation doesn't mean there isn't one. Actual usage, however, does settle the question. –  Henry Jun 3 '11 at 15:34
    
@Henry: Absolutely. It's true that he fell in with a bad crowd is commonplace, but one 'almost cliche' can't totally dominate the meaning for all other contexts. –  FumbleFingers Jun 3 '11 at 15:54

Yes, 'fall in with' is always negative but not strongly so. Any use of it in a nom-negative setting (like your "knitting" example) is for humorous or ironic effect.

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2  
idioms.yourdictionary.com/fall-in-with seems to disagree. –  Philoto Jun 3 '11 at 12:48
    
@Philoto: I read both those examples as slightly tongue-in-cheek. –  Mitch Jan 20 '13 at 3:03

The NOAD reports three meanings of fall in with:

  • meet by chance and become involved with
  • act in accordance with (someone's ideas or suggestions)
  • agree to

None of those meanings have exclusively a negative meaning.

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Not necessarily, but to the extent that it does I would say that that's because it implies that the thing occurred "without conscious intent".

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