I have a feeling that maybe you use one preposition with people, and the other with situations. For example, you might relate with a student who's nervous about an exam, whereas you relate to test anxiety. Am I correct in assuming this? If not, what grammatical rules determine whether you use "to" or "with" following the verb "relate"?
This question has waited about a year for an answer. Given it has at least two upvotes and it is asked frequently on the internet, I thought I would give it a try. I also wanted to learn more about this phrasal verb. The answer I found, however, is not straightforward.
Question: When do you use “relate to” versus “relate with”?
I- Short answer
1- “Relate to” should be used when the meaning of the verb is about connections. For example, “I relate to your pain” and “Those cases relate to each other.” If you want to follow standard English, avoid “I relate with your pain,” and so on.
2- “Related with” could be used when the meaning of the verb is about communication, and often in past tense and passive voice. Hypothetically, also when “relate” conveys repetition and delivery (but found no examples). Examples for communicating a story:
"Related by blood" and "related through a common ancestral language" are examples for another thread.
II- Complications/variations and trends
1- With the exception of Chambers Concise Dictionary (2004), which included “relate with” only in a parenthesis (see also here), all the dictionaries I consulted employed “related to” rather than “related with.” One, in fact, advised against adding “with” after the verb “relate.”
Sites with reputations for quality writing, like the www.nytimes.com, belie the rule but in few occasions, which suggests these cases were slips. The other occasions in which “related” is followed by a “with” in the NYT indicate communication or giving, as two quotes above show (see here).
According to, Lingo.help, 88% of the times the verb "related" is followed by "to."
2- When “relate to” is followed by the preposition “with” and produces an appearance of redundancy or awkward logic, some writers drop the “to.” Example:
3- As the Ngram Viewer shows, there is a subtle but steady climb in English of the phrase “related with” (76 million) (a steeper turn downward for "related to"). Sometimes people choose "relate with" to stress intimacy. For example, they may “relate to their company” but do “relate with their children.”
The trend may result from some of relate's synonyms that are followed by "with." For example, "be associated with," and "have something to do with something." An additional cause might be an increasing interaction with comparable foreign languages that assign slightly different meanings to “relate.”
III- Foreign languages
While “related with” is not yet “standard English,” in other languages the rules seem more nuanced because their meanings of the verb relate shift in other directions. This is more evident in the major Romance languages. To take an example from the Spanish: relacionar, translates better to English in words like “connect” and “mix.” This helps explain why “to relate” in Spanish conveys a stronger connotation of relationship with degrees of distance assigned by the context, and thus it is more commonly (but not exclusively) followed by “with” (con):
“yo me relaciono con todo” (I relate with everything).
In standard English: "I relate to everything."
IV- Personal note about trends and the future of language
Most experts agree that language is not static and that rules are meant to facilitate communication rather than the other way around. “Related with” is perfectly understandable to most English-based readers, and the evidence is not simply in its increasing use in personal pages in the internet, but also in peer-review publications (see here). Though I prefer to follow standard practices in non-native languages, I would stay unperturbed at examples of “with" replacing “to” and would see it as evidence of a change in progress.
V- Other threads similar to this one on this site
1- Is it ever correct to use “relate to with”? (still open without accepted answer)
2- 'Relates to' vs. 'Is Related to' (still open but with accepted answer)
3- word “related” usage (closed)
If you look up the word 'relate' in any dictionary, it also means 'interact'. Thus when the word 'relate' means 'interact' in your writing, the right preposition is 'with' and not 'to'.
When you travel to Congo, be wary of who you relate with, because there's an outbreak of Ebola there now.
Our relationship was poor when we were young. But we relate warmly with each ther now, but still, only on matters related to our office assignments.