2

At first glance, I thought fight was an easy verb, then things started to get complicated:

I fought with my brother for the bed.
I fought with my brother over the bed.

Here, for instance, over sounds like it means a discussion, whereas for sounds like it's for "rights over" the bed.

What about the deletion of with, then?:

I fought my brother for the bed.
I fought my brother over the bed.

Is there any difference? Or is it all semantics?

At the very least, I can understand it if I add another component, though it still doesn't clear up the confusion over for and over:

I fought (with) my brother for the bed.
= I fought against my brother for possession of the bed

I fought with my brother against my sister for the bed.
= I fought against my sister and my brother helped me

Do for and over have a large effect on the phrase? Does with add another nuance to the phrase that otherwise would be missing without it?

  • Please don't contrast "is there any difference?" with "all just semantics"! Semantics is all about difference in meaning. I think you meant to say "or is it just a matter of {style / preference}?" – Brian Hitchcock Apr 1 '15 at 10:30
4

Your following two sentences have bullet points, followed by an explanation of what they mean.

  • I fought with my brother for the bed.

Here there are at least two possible meanings: 1) You and your brother joined together to fight an unnamed third person for possession of the bed; or 2) You and your brother argued back and forth--perhaps even to the point of exchanging blows--for possession of the bed (or at least for the privilege of sleeping in it for a night or more, for example).

Years ago, there was a quaint expression in American English. I'll adapt it to the context of fighting for a bed: "I'll wrassle you for the bed." Translation: I'll wrestle with you, and the winner of the wrestling match gets to keep the bed. (The loser would signify having lost the match by saying, "I give up," or some such admission of defeat.)

  • I fought with my brother over the bed.

Here again there are at least two possibilities: 1) You and your brother argued back and forth about the bed, but not necessarily for the ownership of it, but for some other unspecified reason (e.g., over whether it was an 18th-century antique or a 20th-century knockoff of an antique bed); or 2) You and your brother banded together to fight some other relatives for the ownership of your late father's antique bed, for example.

In each case, the bed is the object over which you are fighting, whether in sense number 1 or sense number 2. A further wrinkle, however, which was suggested by a commenter below my answer, is that by saying "I fought my brother for the bed," any potential third party is hereby excluded from the fight. It's just mano a mano! (i.e., hand-to-hand combat between brothers).

As for whether the use of the word for or the word with makes a difference in meaning, well, you be the judge.

By the way, in light of your use of the sentence "Or is it all semantics?", I suggest that every discussion about word choice involves semantics. More often than not, the discussion centers around either 1) what a word means to you and how that meaning might be different from the meaning I attach to it; or 2) what the connotation of the word is and what it means to each of us. Either way, it's a matter of semantics, yes?

For that reason, whenever I hear a comment such as, "Meh, it's just a matter of semantics," I say, "Well, duh, isn't everything a matter of semantics?"

  • In 2) under the second sentence, zeek and his brother could also still be fighting on the same side against someone else over whether it was an 18th-century antique or a 20th-century knockoff. You may also want to add that removing for makes it clear that he and the brother are fighting against each other: “I fought my brother” can never mean that they teamed up to fight against someone else. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 31 '15 at 21:18
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    @JanusBahsJacquet: Good point. I'll modify my answer accordingly. (Aren't you glad I didn't say, "Meh, it's just a matter of semantics"! Don – rhetorician Mar 31 '15 at 21:29
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    The only point I would add to your otherwise good answer is to say that I fought my brother over the bed could also mean that the wrestling and punching match (concerning e.g. who got the last portion of rice pudding) actually took place on the bed. – WS2 Mar 31 '15 at 23:28
  • @WS2: Believe it or not, I toyed with your idea which suggests that "over the bed" could indicate a direction (i.e., over = above), but the idea kind of evaporated. Besides, I think the more common expression in that case would be "The brothers fought ON the bed." I could be wrong, however. Don – rhetorician Mar 31 '15 at 23:46
  • @rhetorician The brothers arm-wrestled over the table. It could mean 'about who got to keep the table (as they cleared the belongings from their late parents' home)'. But it could also mean that the contest was conducted across the table. I think 'they fought over the bed', as opposed to 'on the bed' might suggest they each occasionally had at least one foot on the floor. – WS2 Apr 1 '15 at 7:05

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