MW and AH both offer examples of "beware" as a transitive verb ("The restaurant's food is excellent, but beware the chili if you don't like spicy food") and as an intransitive verb ("Beware of the dog"), but neither includes any usage note.

As a transitive verb, the word means "to be wary of," and as an intransitive, it means "to be on one's guard," according to MW. I am hard-pressed to see any difference.

So, are there instances when a distinction should be made? Idiomatically, "beware the dog" seems wrong, but why? Is there some logic here, or is it simply a matter of conventional and personal preference?

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    Beware the dog sounds to me like a (slightly archaic) way of saying Watch out! That dog's about to bite you! Whereas beware of the dog sounds more like keep in mind that there is a dog here, who might potentially bite you. Similarly, beware the chili is a (slightly poetic) way of saying watch out, that chili's hot! but beware of the chili sounds...just odd, like there might be bowls of chili (or a great big chili pepper) lurking in the corners of the restaurant waiting to jump out at you. – 1006a Oct 12 '16 at 20:47
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    Whether you include of or not makes no difference to the meaning. Ordinarily it would be present, but as Beware the Jabberwock, my son! and Beware the Ides of March show us, poets and playwrights might opt for the shorter version for the sake of prosody, or to make the warning seem more "immediate" (perhaps because it's shorter and thus more "blunt, direct"). – FumbleFingers Oct 12 '16 at 20:48
  • Could be. However, there is nothing poetic about "beware the chili if you don't like spicy food," and generally this kind of consideration is spelled out in usage notes. Also, there would seem to be no need to more direct in warning about chili than about a dog. – user66965 Oct 12 '16 at 20:50
  • 'Beware the [chili]' is probably also used in a tongue-in-cheek way nowadays, probably informed by the Jabberwock template, with 'watch out for the chili' being the less marked informal version. 'Beware of ...' is formal to stuffy, and only used (except more rarely for humour) with significant threats, outside the registers FF names. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 12 '16 at 22:03
  • I do actually think "beware the chili if you don't like spicy food" sounds rather...affected. "Watch out for the chili" or "keep away from the chili" or similar sounds more natural to my (AmE) ear. But "beware of the" also doesn't sound like normal conversation—it's either signage or intentionally in a more formal register. My point was that I read beware the dog (wary of) as "Careful! That dog right there looks like it's about to bite you!" and beware of the dog (on one's guard) more like "Be careful that you don't somehow run afoul of the dog who lives here." – 1006a Oct 12 '16 at 22:41

I dug around in the OED. Here's what I found: EDITED AFTER READING COMMENTS

beware, v.1

1. To be cautious or on one's guard, to be wary; to take care, take heed, in reference to a danger.
  a. simply.
  b. with of (from, with, obs.): To be on one's guard against. <-- (EDIT) partially obsolete?
  c. with infinitive. Obs. <-- obsolete
  d. with clause: lest, that not, how.
  e. with simple object; = 1b. <-- (EDIT) not marked obsolete, but PART of 1b is

2. To take care, have a care of:
  a. with of. Obs. <--obsolete
  b. with simple object. Obs. <-- obsolete
  c. with infin. or clause. arch.

3. To take warning by. Obs. <-- and once more

So it seems that the only definitions that are not marked obsolete are 1a, 1d, and 2c. Now, 2c might not be marked as obsolete, but it is marked as archaic, so let's ignore that one. (EDIT: Also, it seems I was reading one of the Obs. wrong, so let's add 1b/1e back into the mix.) This leaves us with the following examples:
1a. Beware!
1d. Beware how you indulge. Beware that you don't get caught.
1b. Beware of getting lost. Beware of self-deception.
1e. Beware the dog!

(edited) So, after looking at this list one more time, it seems that there are a few options that are not yet obsolete, yet we don't hear being used very often. This might lead to them sounding wrong, even when they are not. The same thing has happened to the word "whom," with many people believing that you're trying to sound smart when you're only using it in its proper place in the sentence. (Sometimes even I have to pause to make sure I'm not hypercorrecting before asking someone whom they are looking for.)
Thank you, comments! I must indeed beware of parentheses!

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    As I read it, in 1b, beware of is current, but beware from and beware with are obsolete. Beware of parentheses. – Phil Sweet Oct 21 '16 at 18:13
  • Sense 1e is also definitely not obsolete....this is probably the most common usage of the word. – chronometric Oct 23 '16 at 7:34
  • @PhilSweet Ah, thank you! Edited response, since that changes a lot. – KWade Oct 24 '16 at 12:29

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