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I got burned from being in the sun for a few hours.

I got burned by being in the sun for a few hours.

In the above examples, I am confused by the prepositions by and from. I started Googling this out of my curiosity and seem to find both phrases being used equally. Is there a correct version, or are both equally acceptable?

It happened from being in the sun for two hours.

It happened by being in the sun for two hours.

In this above example, I'm more inclined to use from, but not totally sure.

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  • 2
    Yes. I'd use 'I got burned by being in the sun for a few hours' but 'I was burned from being in the sun for a few hours', but doubtless others would choose differently. Nov 30 '17 at 22:49
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    From is a touch more distant than by in this context. If X causes Y, and Y causes Z, then you might say you got Z from X by Y.
    – Lawrence
    Dec 1 '17 at 4:42
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They're both acceptable constructions in this particular case based on dictionary definitions of the words.

OED gives this relevant definition of from:

14.a. Denoting ground, reason, cause, or motive: Because of, on account of, owing to, as a result of, through.

And this relevant definition of by:

33.a. Introducing the principal agent.

So while there is some overlap, and the example sentence fits into that overlapping space, the words have some distinction that can be broadly understood with some rules of thumb. This distinction is specific to these senses of "from" and "by" as discussed in the example question; counter-examples to these "rules of thumb" are probably easy to find by using different senses of either word.

  • "From" implies that the object is a "cause" or "reason." You can usually say "[Ind. Cl.] from [NP]" if you can also say "[Ind. Cl.] because of [NP]."

[I was sweating] from [running so fast].

[I was sweating] because of [running so fast].

  • "By" implies that the object performed an action. You can usually say "[Xsubject][Ypredicate] by [NP]" if you can also say "[NP][Zpredicate][Xobj.]."

[Jim] [got his face painted red] by [Alice].

[Alice] [painted] [Jim's face] (red)

In these examples, "by" and "from" are not interchangeable.

*[I was sweating] by [running so fast].

*[Running so fast] [sweated] [me].

*[Jim] [got his face painted red] from [Alice].

?[Jim] [got his face painted red] because of [Alice]. (semantically different)

However, the phrase in the question can satisfy either of these structures.

[I got burned] from [being in the sun for a few hours].

[I got burned] because of [being in the sun for a few hours].

[I] [got burned] by [being in the sun for a few hours].

[Being in the sun for a few hours] [burned] [me].

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  • Thanks raceyouanytime... Your explanation explains why I was so confused by this from a technical standpoint! Dec 1 '17 at 22:33
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By: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/by_1

From: https://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/from

"From" is singular location and "by" is the cause, or comparative location.

Correct: I got burned by ultraviolet rays from the Sun.

Inorrect: I got burned from ultraviolet rays by the Sun.

Correct: I got burned by ultraviolet rays from the Sun but not all of them as some of the rays passed by me and then travelled away from me.

Incorrect: I got burned from ultraviolet rays by the Sun but not all of them as some of the rays passed from me and then travelled away by me.

By removing one of the causes of your being burned you've introduced ambiguity which permits use of either word but each word only applies to one thing even if it is omitted and implied; which makes it unclear how you were burned.

I got burned from being in the sun for a few hours. I got burned by being in the sun for a few hours.

I got burned from being in (or on) the sun for a trillionth of a second while wearing an ultraviolet protective suit.

I got burned by being exposed to ultraviolet rays from various sources for a few hours while in a cave.

[Edits welcome]

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  • The object of 'by' can also be the agent in a passive construction, and the object of 'from' is the source of something (which could be a thing or an action). When agent and source are the same, either 'by' or 'from' is grammatical. Your examples that simply swap all uses of 'by' and 'from' are not relevant.
    – AmI
    Dec 1 '17 at 0:02
  • @AmI - Does the edit regarding the ambiguity clarify that it's loose as to what is referenced to. I was writing that while you were commenting. Provide your own answer, it is welcomed.
    – Rob
    Dec 1 '17 at 0:17
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    I'm afraid I don't understand your point. The OP did not ask about 'rays by (=near) the sun' as opposed to 'rays from the sun'. It was only about the equivalence of 'by being' and 'from being'. 'Being ...' is a gerund phrase, which could be considered both an agent of action and/or a source of consequences.
    – AmI
    Dec 1 '17 at 0:43

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