11

Reading a science article on Huffington Post, titled "Dinosaur Farts, Prehistoric Climate Change Linked In New Methane Gas Study", I came across the following sentence:

The gassy emissions from these giant dinosaurs may have been enough to warm the Earth, the researchers say.

I'm wondering, if the farts are produced and emitted by dinosaurs, is it proper English using 'from' instead of 'by' in that sentence?

  • 3
    'From' appears to follow 'emissions' far more commonly than 'by' does. A quick Google search confirms. Compare 'emissions from [source of emissions]' vs. 'emissions by [producer of emissions]'. In this context, both would be correct. The choice depends on whether one wants to emphasize the flow from the source or the act of production. – ba_ul Aug 24 '14 at 3:46
  • I hope you won't forget to award Araucaria the bounty AND his answer, you know that green tick thing you keep forgetting to click on! :) – Mari-Lou A Dec 24 '14 at 15:53
  • What do you mean you hope it works? You get to choose whose answer gets the bounty, no one else. If you don't award it personally the system picks the answer that received the highest number of upvotes when the bounty was set up. If no answer received any upvotes you will still lose the 200 points, and no one "wins" the bounty. You know how this works, right? – Mari-Lou A Dec 24 '14 at 21:04
  • 2
    Hi Elberich, if you want someone to get the bounty you need to click on the feint +400 box next to their answer :) – Araucaria Nov 1 '15 at 14:05

11 Answers 11

26
+50
  • The gassy emissions from these giant dinosaurs may have been enough to warm the Earth, the researchers say.

From:

The preposition from, which is modifying the noun emissions in the Original Poster's example, indicates the source, or origin of the noun. It is a very common usage of this preposition and is frequently observed. Consider the following examples:

  • wines from France
  • shouts of abuse from the audience
  • posts from users
  • letters from friends
  • excerpts from the novel
  • strange noises from the fridge

Here, the source of the wine is France, the abuse originates from the audience, so on and so forth. The gassy emissions, or farts as the Original Poster colloquially and accurately terms them, originated from the dinosaurs in question and so from the dinosaurs is a perfectly valid prepositional phrase with which to modify the Noun Phrase The emissions.

By:

The Original Poster's question, however, also considers modification of The emissions by a prepositional phrase headed by the preposition by. Now, it is a pernicious myth peddled by English teachers and armchair grammarians, that verbs denote actions, nouns denote objects, adjectives describe nouns or objects, so on and so forth. In actual fact, of course, verbs often denote states, not actions; nouns can denote actions and not objects, adjectives can be used to describe states or actions and not objects - you get the picture.

For our purposes here, we need to consider nouns that describe actions and events. There are thousands if not tens of thousands of such words. Here are a few:

  • theft, release, beating, baptism, massacre, emission

Now when we consider actions or events such as these, we are often able to perceive entities whom or which we consider to take the role of agent or patient in relation to the action concerned. The agent is the doer of the action, and the patient is the recipient of the action, the thing the action is done to. In the sentence, Bob punched me, therefore, Bob is the agent and I am the patient - the person who received the punch.

In relation to actions denoted by nouns, when we perceive both an agent and a patient, we commonly use by to modify the noun to show the agent, and we can also use of to show the patient:

  • the massacre of the Daleks by the Vogons
  • the baptism by the priests of the new members of the congregation
  • the release of the baboons by the naturalists
  • the theft by the cat burglar of the Crown Jewels
  • the emission of green house gasses by the diplodocus

[Note that if the action is perceived as intransitive, then this pattern won't usually apply. We will use of to denote the agent. Consider: the arrival of the bus, the resignation of the managing director, the refusal of the authorities to...]

In the Original Poster's question, their alternative formulation emissions by dinosaurs would indicate the agent of the emitting action. It is of course perfectly grammatical and stylistically viable.

Conclusion:

In terms of the structure of the Noun Phrase the emissions ..., both the Preposition Phrases from dinosaurs and by dinosaurs function as modifiers or adjuncts. They are not essential elements in the structure of the phrase. We could add either, or omit both, and the Noun Phrase would still be well-formed. In this particular instance, the two Preposition Phrases provide pretty much the same information, so little would be gained by using them both. The second would seem redundant if we did so:

  • The emissions from and by dinosaurs may ...

In terms of which is stylistically best, in general terms they both seem fine. They're certainly both grammatically well-formed. However, the writer here seems to be trying to add a bit of colour to what might otherwise be a rather dry subject. They, for example, use the term gassy emissions, they don't say the methane released. The effect of emissions here is slightly comical, it mirrors the use of emissions we often see in the literature relating to factories and power stations, but also, because of the action-like nature of the noun, it clearly reminds us of farting. It therefore introduces a trace of very understated scatological humour in order to enliven the subject matter.

For these reasons, it seems to me that the faintly scatalogical undertone would be enhanced by the use of by, because it would increase the sense of the dinosaurs' agency in the farting process. Compare:

  • Gassy emissions from dinosaurs

  • Gassy emissions by dinosaurs

However, the last stylistic point is a matter of personal opinion. It only indirectly relates to the grammar. The upshot of this enquiry overall is that both from and by dinosaurs are perfectly grammatically correct.

Hope this helps

  • In general, adjuncts and modifiers are not particularly choosy. For instance, most nouns (referring the physical objects) can take the adjunct "on the ground" (e.g., "the book on the ground"). Complements are generally more selective (e.g., "an interest in..." not "an interest about..."), and while nouns don't often select complements, I think that this would be such a case. – Brett Reynolds Aug 27 '14 at 1:26
  • 1
    @Araucaria, do you really believe that the word "emissions" in the OP refers to "the act of emitting"? If so, please read the entire article. I believe that the word refers to not an action or event but the methane itself, rendering your argument for "by" irrelevant. – JK2 Aug 27 '14 at 2:33
  • I'm with @JK2 on this. The "gassy emissions" have nothing to do with the act of emitting. The sentence could easily read "The gaseous digestion byproducts from dinosaurs..." and 'by' could not replace 'from'. The topic is the gases, not how they exited the dinosaurs. Downvoted. – miltonaut Dec 6 '14 at 5:35
  • 1
    Thanks for the extra examples, @Araucaria! I'd take back my downvote if I could. – miltonaut Dec 11 '14 at 4:06
6

"From" would be grammatically correct. Even though the dinosaurs cause the emissions, what you are really talking about is:

The gassy emissions are there, and the source of them is the dinosaurs.

You aren't really talking about cause-and-effect, more that the source is the dinosaurs. So "from" would be appropriate.

This is usually how you would mean it when talking about emissions; "emissions from" is more common than "emissions by". (ngram)

3

I don't know if there's a hard and fast rule and if so, I would love for someone here to post a link to it. In the absence of an authoritative article, below's my (AmE) take on it.

Looking at your sentence, you can decompose it as the following,

The X from Y did Z

But if you replace it with the preposition 'by' the decomposition sounds awkward to the ear,

The X by Y did Z

To fix it, one would have to add an "action verb" to precede by,

The X "made" by Y did Z,
where "made" could be replaced with any action verb that fits the context

So, if you really wanted to use 'by' for your sentence, you could restate as follows:

The gas emitted by these giant dinosaurs may have been enough to warm the Earth, the researchers say.

wherein emitted is the action verb that best fits this context.

  • Upvoted, for reasons explained in my comment on Brett Reynolds' answer. – JEL Jul 31 '15 at 20:23
2

In this case, the prepositional phrase "from these giant dinosaurs" is modifying the noun "emissions".

When modifying nouns, "from" signifies the noun's brute source. Like: rain from a cloud or smoke from a fire.

"By" however indicates the noun is a mindful creation: a speech by the President or art by the artist.

The choice of "from" here is, I think, correct as I don't see that the dinosaurs were particularly purposeful in their eminations.

2

While emissions from is about twice as common as emissions by, the latter almost never refers to the source of emissions (source: http://corpus.byu.edu/coca/?c=coca&q=32625969). Rather it usually indicates

  1. the amount of a change (e.g., by 20%)
  2. the date by which a change should occur (e.g., by next year)
  3. they method by which the change should be accomplished (e.g., by adopting limits)

There are examples in edited, published, academic writing of emissions by (source):

  • the increase in CO 2 emissions by the non-Annex B countries
  • Light emissions by fireflies are signal information
  • greenhouse-gas emissions by coal-powered plants

But these constitute roughly 1–2% of all instances of emissions by and an even smaller ratio of the preposition + source pattern.

This data indicates that people are generally uncomfortable with by the source (dinos in this case) and that you would genreally use from. But it doesn't explain why.

Preposition choice is generally governed by an underlying metaphor. In the UK, they say at the weekEND while North Americans say on the WEEKend. This suggests that the dominant metaphor in the UK is that the week is a line and the weekend is the point at the end of that line. In contrast, the metaphor that prevails in North America is that the weekend is simply another platform (like the week days) on which activities can be undertaken. It makes no sense to say that one is logical and the other mistaken. They are simply alternatives, but once a society has latched on to one, the other will sound distinctly odd. This is reinforced through repetition.

In the emissions case, it may be a choice between seeing the emitter as a willful, active agent (by) or a more passive source (from). Again, there's no logical reason to prefer from over by in this situation. In fact, examples of by to identify the source are a much higher ratio with singular emission, though overall they are quite rare. This suggests that the reason we prefer emissions from is just that it is a self-reinforcing pattern we've become used to.

  • I hadn't considered underlying metaphors as governors of preposition choice, and I welcome the insight. Preposition use is highly idiomatic, and the attempts to explain or justify it in terms of rules, whether the rules are derived or didactic, seem both convoluted and weak. Your answer also dovetails with K-'s, where the addition of the action verb changes the underlying metaphor. I find both answers useful. – JEL Jul 31 '15 at 20:20
1

I think the choice is due to the verb involved; these aren't paintings made by dinosaurs. They're not even tracks left by the passing of goliath feet.

No, they're farts: gas emitted from the backsides of the Earth's erstwhile tenants. Their legacy, our heritage: the last bequest we will ever receive from the dinosaurs.

  • 1
    Earth’s erstwhile tenants, you say? Rex quondam, rexque futurus: the chickens are gaining on us. – tchrist Aug 24 '14 at 5:21
  • 1
    I'm going be really excited the day I can ride around on a chicken. – Dan Bron Aug 24 '14 at 10:27
  • Happy days! – tchrist Aug 24 '14 at 10:29
  • 1
    I think you underestimate me (well, my mass, anyway). – Dan Bron Aug 24 '14 at 10:32
1

In both of your sentences, it seems to me that there is an implied, omitted word. For example:

The gassy emissions (emanating) from these giant dinosaurs ...

The gassy emmisions (excreted) by these giant dinosaurs ...

(Pick your own chosen word, but you get my drift).

Hence the choice of "from" or "by" is determined by the sense you wish to convey: is it something vaguely drifting "from" them, or something very specifically being put out "by" them.

1

Perhaps both need a qualifier?:

Coming from these..

Or:

Caused by these..

0

I think that from is appropriate when the source of the emission has been elided.

The firey emissions from/by dragons have incinerated many a knight.

The firey emissions from/*by the mouths of dragons have incinerated many a knight.

The methane emissions from/by cows are contributing to global warming.

The methane emissions from/*by the hindquarters of cows are contributing to global warming.

The sulfur dioxide emissions from/by factories are causing acid rain.

The sulfur dioxide emissions from/*by the smokestacks of factories are causing acid rain.

(Sometimes my ears would tell me from / ?by, making by questionable in the above examples, rather than outright wrong.)

But even if the by is not quite wrong, the from is always better.

From works better when paired with emit and emission. Notice that the -mit ending often has an implicit direction.

Transmit the message to/from my father.

You must submit to the authorities.

Remit funds to your brokerage.

A piercing sound emits from the ambulance.

For these Latin-derived -mit endings, a to or from is called for. For emit or emission, a from is called for.

0

Here 'from' seems fine. Sometimes 'by' is also used, but there is a entry in (http://dictionary.cambridge.org) which says: "By: typical errors". It contains the following rulings:

We say by car, by bus, by plane etc. but if there is a determiner (e.g. a/an, the, some, his), we say in or on:

They always travel on the bus.

Not: by the bus.

We use by, not with, to talk about the action of something:

He got into the house by breaking the window. (action)

Not: with breaking the window.

We use with, not by, to refer to the object or instrument that we use to do something!

He broke the window with a rock. (object/instrument)

Not: by a rock.

By and the passive

When we use the passive voice, we can use a phrase with by to say who did the action:

The new street was opened by the Mayor.

The wedding cake was made by Henry’s mother.

Also, consider these examples

  1. The application has been approved by the principal. (passive)

  2. The application has received approval from the principal (active)

Therefore your sentence seems like an active one in my opinion.

However 'from' shows that:

used to show the place where someone or something starts:

What time does the flight from Amsterdam arrive? The wind is coming from the north.

She sent me a postcard from Majorca. He took a handkerchief from his pocket.

She took her hairbrush from her handbag and began to brush her hair.

So did you really walk all the way from Bond Street?

-1

The gassy emissions from these giant dinosaurs may have been enough to warm the Earth

I would argue that to replace from with by would render the sentence ungrammatical. Here are my reasons:

First things first, it should be noted that the word emissions here does not mean "an act or instance of emitting" but it means "substances discharged into the air (as by a smokestack or an automobile engine)". Merriam-Webster That's why the word is in the plural.

As a matter of fact, the word emissions here refers to methane, which word has shown up about 13 times throughout the article (including in its title "Dinosaur Farts, Prehistoric Climate Change Linked In New Methane Gas Study"). There is another appearance of the word emissions in the article (The real question is, did these dinosaur's gassy emissions warm the planet?), where the word emissions also refers to methane.

Now that the word emissions here denotes not an action or event but a substance, the issue boils down to whether the following sentence is grammatical:

The gassy substance by these giant dinosaurs may have been enough to warm the Earth (??)

And it's apparent that this is not grammatical. At least not in the intended meaning of the original sentence.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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