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I have a twitter account and I see some people having in their profiles mention:

Company Director at ABC

and others

Company Director of ABC

Also, I come across:

Founder of ABC


Founder at ABC

As English is not my mother tongue, my question is: what is the correct usage of at and of in the following examples?

  • Company Director __ ABC
  • Founder __ ABC
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Your phrase 'I meet this' isn't one that's used in English in that context. I think you mean 'I've seen this'. – Pureferret Dec 13 '11 at 14:56
@Pureferret: "I encounter this" is used in English; the interesting question here is why "meet" is different. – ShreevatsaR Dec 13 '11 at 16:19
In the context, encounter still doesn't sound great. It's worth making a question about it though. – Pureferret Dec 13 '11 at 16:45
@Pureferret - I actually think that "meet" and "encounter" in relation to linguistic usages and constructs is wholly idiomatic. In fact, I think native english speakers use them on this site. – Marcin Dec 13 '11 at 16:57
@Marcin, I've never heard it before. And as native speaker that phrase in that context rubs me up the wrong way, so to speak. Encounter sounds better though, I'll admit. – Pureferret Dec 13 '11 at 21:14

"Founder of ABC" means that the person founded ABC. Likewise "Company director of ABC" means that the person directs ABC.

"Founder at ABC" means that the person is a founder, and that ABC is their place of work. It strongly implies that ABC is what that person founded. To me it sounds a little clunky.

For a job where the company isn't the subject of the job title, "of" doesn't work:

"Salesman of ABC" — not what you would use unless the person was selling the company ABC!

"Salesman at ABC" — typical usage. The person is a salesman. ABC is their place of work.

Bonus: you also get "Salesman for ABC". The person is a salesman. The selling they do is for ABC.

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Great answer, thank you. What about the "company directo at ABC" scenario? Is it the same with the "Founder at ABC" ? – Xalloumokkelos Dec 13 '11 at 13:35
Yes, exactly the same. – slim Dec 13 '11 at 13:39

The words "founder" is like "president" — its meaning is incomplete without the thing founded. You can talk about "the founder" but only when the thing that they founded is clear from context. It would be odd to say "He is a founder" unless we have already been talking about a company or organisation; or to say "I saw three founders together yesterday". So the relationship between a founder and the thing they founded is a close one, and is marked by "of".

The situation is similar for "company director", but not quite so strongly: you can say "I met three company directors today". But if you are talking about a company director and the company they are a director of, this is the same close relationship, and you us "of".

Relationships marked with "at", on the other hand, are what linguists call "adjuncts": they give additional information (which might be very important in the particular sentence, but are not part of the meaning of a term).

So in most contexts, "the founder at ABC" would be incoherent. You would need a special context like "Our company was founded by two people, one of whom left us to go to ABC, but the other is still with us. The founder at ABC..." for it to make sense.

For "company director", the situation is less clear-cut. You can certainly say "He is a director of ABC" — and I would not use "company" there, because the thing that he is director of is ABC, a company.

You can also say "He is a director at ABC", but that implies that he is not a director of company ABC, i.e. that he is some other kind of director there — perhaps director of marketing.

"He is a company director at ABC" reads a bit strangely to me, but I would accept it, especially with a comma "He is a company director, at ABC", where the "at ABC" reads like an afterthought.

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Company Director can be used with both prepositions but they mean different things. Of means that this person is the director of ABC. At means that he is the director of a department, not of the entire company.

Founder of ABC means that he founded the company in question. Founder at connotes a participation in founding. I am not sure if the latter is correct use. The meaning would be clearer with an expression like co-founder of ABC.

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On what do you base your contention that "director of" implies that the person is the sole director? That does not accord with any established usage. – Marcin Dec 13 '11 at 15:38
A company can have more than one director. All of them however are directors of this company. – Irene Dec 13 '11 at 16:07
Your distinction is a tendency, not an absolute. At a businessman's dinner, for example, you might say "I'm [the] director at ABC" when you actually mean you're the only, or most senior director. You could also say "I'm CEO at ABC", where that sense is explicit. I think the more other companies and directors are in the current frame of reference, the more likely it is that "at" will be used instead of "of". The only nuance of meaning is to slightly downplay one's importance, which in such contexts is just social courtesy. – FumbleFingers Dec 13 '11 at 16:34

These are both cases where either preposition may be used, without a change in meaning - one is a (or the) director or founder of an institution, and likewise one may hold that position "at" it.

In relation to the position "founder", use with the preposition "at" is a little odd, because that tends to be used with appointments, and founders are not appointed to their position - it is a relationship with the institution which exists because the founders created it.

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Maybe this is a very subtle nuance, I can't give you a reference, but if someone says, "Bob is director of ABC Company", I think they would be understood to mean that he is the director of the entire company, probably the only one. If they said, "Bob is director at ABC Company", they would be understood to mean that he has a job title or function of "director", but not of the entire company. He might be the director of a department or a division.

Similarly, if you said, "Bob is salesman at ABC Company", this rather implies there are other salesman and he is one of many. But if you said, "Bob is salesman of ABC Company", that would tend to imply he's the only one.

Of course adding an "a" or "the" to the sentence might help clarify. But still, if you said, "Bob is a director of ABC Company", I think we would still understand you to mean that he is director of the entire company. The indefinite article "a" would imply that there are other such directors; perhaps there is a partnership or a committee that directs the company.

"of" normally implies possession. Not necessarily literal ownership, but a certain umniqueness. Like if you say, "Charlie is the husband of Sally", he "belongs" to Sally. Not, of course, in the same sense that we would say that a pencil or a pair of shoes belong to Sally, but in the sense that he is the husband of Sally and of no one else. (Or if this society practices polygamy, at least that the set of women who can claim him as her husband is strictly limited.) Likewise if someone is the "director of the company", we understand there to be a certain exclusiveness there.

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