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I have seen both forms and I don't know which one is the more appropriate (if there is a difference).

The actual sentence in which I want to use it is "particles can encounter (with) the atoms of the material".

But I'm also interested in the general case.

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In this instance, it's the verb form, and you would not use "with".

If it was the noun form, you could use "with", like

"I had an encounter with an old girlfriend on saturday".

See http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/encounter

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