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I'd like to learn the etymology of using the preposition with in the phrase in love with somebody. For me it doesn't make much sense because with seems to imply something that is shared by two people, something symmetrical wherein the phrase only states that one person has romantic feelings towards another. In Polish, we say być zakochanym w kimś which directly translates to be in love in somebody, which, at least to me, seems to make much more sense.

Why do we use/What is the etymology of using with in the phrase in love with somebody?

  • Interesting question. French too, doesn't use it. Elle est amoureuse de Jean. – WS2 Sep 8 '15 at 7:50
  • May be (indirectly) related : english.stackexchange.com/questions/247077/… – Eilia Sep 8 '15 at 7:54
  • We can also be in love 'with' an idea or an inanimate object and clearly that can't be reciprocated. The usage goes back a long way. books.google.com/ngrams/… – chasly from UK Sep 8 '15 at 8:05
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    "With" seems to make perfect sense. Love is an emotion, and plenty of other emotions are paired with "with": I was angry with him, I'm not happy with her, he's frustrated with them, etc. "With" in all these cases seems to mean that there are two nouns and one is causing a particular emotion in the other. – Nicole Sep 9 '15 at 16:38
  • @Nicole at the moment of asking this question I didn't realize there are quite so many situations where "with" is used with emotions and now I see that this question is not the question I should have ask. – Maurycy Sep 10 '15 at 8:52
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This usage may well go back to Old English, which (ironically) uses "with" for feelings of opposition. For the sense of "with" "after words of conduct or feeling towards (a person etc.)," the OED cites King Alfred's Old English version of Boethius De consolatione philosophiae from the year 888:

Hwi murc nast ðu wið min?

In a modern translation, "Why dost thou frown on me[?]" The Old English Translator translates "murc" to "dismal," so a more literal sense is "Why are you disapproving of me?"

The OED notes that this sense of opposition for "with" was replaced by feelings of mutuality, and in Middle English, as the word took over the Old English mid (with, cognate of the Greek "meta"), it became idiomatic with the object of romantic feeling.

  • Very interesting, can you please provide a link to this semantic transformation of "with"? – user66974 Sep 8 '15 at 10:15
  • @Josh61Would if I could. All I have is paper for the OED. It's under the history of "with" as a preposition. – deadrat Sep 8 '15 at 10:18
  • Link that If you can , it may be useful to users. – user66974 Sep 8 '15 at 10:19
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    @Josh61 OED online brings it up on single-word query. Linked in answer. – deadrat Sep 8 '15 at 10:24
  • I am marking this answer as correct because it seems to fit best, although after some comments in other answers I realize that this is not question I wanted to ask. Would you mind adding that "with" is also used with a lot other feeling verbs and love is not an exception? – Maurycy Sep 10 '15 at 8:57
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According to Etymonline the expression dates back to the 16th century:

  • To fall in love is attested from early 15c. To be in love with (someone) is from c. 1500.
  • I think that it is derived from the earlier expression fall in love where the preposition with may result more natural to use.
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Why not "with"? What preposition would you suggest? Different languages have quite different prepositions: German verliebt in, French amoureux de, English in love with. I wouldn't rack my brains about the preposition, it's more or less idiomatic.

  • I am afraid the best explanation I can give for asking is already present in the body of the question. – Maurycy Sep 8 '15 at 10:43
  • You are used to "in" from earliest age, so you find it natural. This will be true for speakers of other languages, too. – rogermue Sep 8 '15 at 10:47
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    Partially, yes. But as I said "with" gives the impression of being a bi-directional association, at least for me, because if A is with B, then B is automatically with A. And it's not the same with "in" which is uni-directional - when A is in B it does not mean that B is in A. But it doesn't necessarily have to be "in", it could be "over", "on" or even "to". That's my main issue. – Maurycy Sep 8 '15 at 11:37
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    I don't think "with" in this kind of construction implies symmetry. You can be angry with someone, satisfied with them, frustrated with them, in love with them, upset with them, and none of these imply that the other person shares your feeling. I agree that it would make a lot of sense for "with" to imply symmetry, so that to be X with a person means that you and they are both X and that your Xness is somehow shared with theirs, but in fact it doesn't. – Gareth McCaughan Sep 8 '15 at 13:59
  • (In cases where X is a verb rather than "be + adjective", "with" does work that way. To rejoice or grieve with someone, for instance, means to do it together with them.) – Gareth McCaughan Sep 8 '15 at 14:00

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