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“Covered with” vs “covered in” vs “covered by”

From J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (June 1997):

He bent down and pulled his wand out of the troll’s nose. It was covered in what looked like lumpy grey glue. ‘Urgh — troll bogies.’

Or in its shamelessly bowdlerized version, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (October 1997), ‘translated’ from the original English for the American mass-market audience:

He bent down and pulled his wand out of the troll’s nose. It was covered in what looked like lumpy gray glue. “Urgh — troll boogers.”

From Colin Fine’s explanation, I can picture the troll’s boogers widespread over the wand, not hiding it. In the example, can “in” be replaced by “with” keeping the same meaning in the reply?


Troll Bogies card, with quotation

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marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, Mitch, MετάEd, StoneyB, simchona Jan 5 '13 at 21:52

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
Yes, with can replace in without changing the meaning in this sentence. –  user21497 Jan 5 '13 at 2:54
    
In general, 'in' and 'with' are definitely not interchangeable. But in the duplicate question, it shows that often 'covered with' and 'covered in' can be. –  Mitch Jan 5 '13 at 15:48
    
Wait...'bowdlerized'? There were vulgarities in the English version replaced with euphemisms or entirely ignored in the American version? –  Mitch Jan 5 '13 at 15:49

2 Answers 2

up vote 4 down vote accepted

To my ear, "covered with" suggests that it was done deliberately and beneficently. "She covered him with a blanket", "The turtle eggs were covered with sand".

"Covered in" suggests that it was an sloppy accident. "I'm covered in mud!"

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1  
Well, to be honest, nobody says "I'm covered with mud!" But you can say "He's all covered with mud" and that seems pretty synonymous to using in –  Jeremy Jan 5 '13 at 5:22
    
@Nile: Here and here are over 500 written instances of "he's/he is covered with mud", and there are nearly as many for I and she. There's no reason to suppose interpolating all makes it any more "grammatical" (it's just a word children are more likely to use than completely). –  FumbleFingers Jan 5 '13 at 14:01

To me the two seem pretty much synonymous. Aside from some idiomatic usages, cover with seems to be much more common in all cases.

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