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I take both phrases (in the sense I'm addressing) to indicate that there is no outside agency involved. But I wonder if the sentences below, for example, illustrate slight differences in meaning:

  1. The door opened of itself.
  2. The machine will start by itself in few seconds.

Can the phrases be interchanged here?

  • There are entries for the phrase '[all / just] by itself' in various online dictionaries. Can you find one for 'of itself'? Note that 'by and of itself' is another matter. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 27 '17 at 8:12
  • In Elizabethan English (think King James Bible) "of" is often used where modern English uses "by". Hence, some expressions may still be in use that speak this way, like referring to an animal that died of disease as "died of itself" (Leviticus 17:15), or plants that grow without being specifically planted "that which groweth of itself" (Leviticus 25:11), etc. But its essentially an archaic usage. – developerwjk Apr 27 '17 at 20:33
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The word itself like any other noun or pronoun, can be informed by a range of prepositions, each of them conveying its own meaning.

"The door opened of itself", may be an older idiomatic form, not much in current use.

The door opening is no different whatever to the machine which "started by itself".

You could say "the camera took a picture of itself" (assuming there are cameras capable of such things), "the company posted a letter to itself", "the bank accepted a charge on itself", "the group entered into a dialogue with itself".

There is a separate idiomatic form of "of itself", where we say such things as "the suggestion was not of itself helpful, but it did lead to a useful debate". But in this situation one could equally well use by itself.

  • "'The door opened of itself', is NOT CORRECT." Wrong. Its ARCHAIC not incorrect. – developerwjk Apr 27 '17 at 20:32
  • @developerwjk Ok. I will accept that, and will edit accordingly. – WS2 Apr 28 '17 at 20:56

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