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I am aware that the word deluged means two things:

  1. Flooded with water
  2. Overwhelmed

The question I want to ask is its usage in a sentence. Would I say 'deluged with' or 'deluged by' something? In other words, should I use 'by' or 'with' when using the word 'deluged'? Thank you.

Princeton Review "Word Smart" provides an example that says 'was deluged by phone calls'.

According to numerous dictionaries such as Oxford, Cambridge, and Merriam Webster, the common usage is 'deluged with'.

On the other hand, Oxford Dictionary of Difficult Words shows both, with different objects.

Does the preposition change, depending on the object?

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    Yes, I did check some dictionaries. – John Lee Jul 26 '19 at 21:44
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    Okay, I guess I should trust the dictionaries since the book may have errors. – John Lee Jul 26 '19 at 21:54
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    @Cascabel Yes, I've been perusing nGrams and I think there is a split. Oddly, a following definite article seems to push the trend towards by - something to do with specificity and possibly the countability of the object. Deluged by a rogue wave. – Phil Sweet Jul 26 '19 at 22:28
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    @Patriot It appears that possibly there are more complexities to the question than can be solved with just a look-up. Feel free to steal whatever Phil and I have said here and turn it into an answer. Ain't no shame in that. – Cascabel Jul 26 '19 at 23:22
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    @tchrist Worthy of a real answer. – Cascabel Jul 26 '19 at 23:49
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We use by, not with, to talk about the action of something:

He got into the house by breaking the window. (action)

Not: … with breaking the window.

We use with, not by, to refer to the object or instrument that we use to do something!

He broke the window with a rock. (object/instrument)

By: Cambridge Dictionary - https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/grammar/british-grammar/by

Essentially, with by, there is a matter of being once removed from the event itself, whereas with with, it is directly embroiled in the event. In a comment, I suggested "deluged by a rogue wave". The wave no longer exists, it being destroyed in the event, so by seems more apt to me.

I would use with in "deluged [with/by] phone calls" if the issue was mostly about the inability to handle the incoming calls. But I can see "deluged by phone calls" if the focus is on the people who are calling or the issue that precipitated the calls - as in "their announcement outraged the public, and for days they were deluged by phone calls and mail." After all, there are two ends to a phone call, and you can choose the preposition which best suits the end receiving focus.

  • Thanks a lot. That makes so much sense. Never thought of it like that. – John Lee Jul 27 '19 at 14:13
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I'll take a stab at it (without going through all the comments).

It really depends on agency (i.e. blame -- who's fault it is). Consider:

  • Deluged by puppies

or:

  • Deluged with puppies

Now. Everyone loves puppies, so you can hardly blame them for your distress. Someone must have left them on your doorstep, or sent them through the post, or maybe you just allowed your dog to get pregnant (again). But it's not the puppies fault. You have been deluged with puppies, not by puppies.

On the other hand:

  • Deluged by spammers

or:

  • Deluged with spammers

You have my sympathy if you find yourself unable a cope due to a surfeit of spammers. However, it is unlikely that some mean soul sent them through the post, just to annoy you. Spammers have agency. They could have decided to stay in bed, or get a proper job, or something. You have been deluged by spammers, not deluged with spammers.

OK. Now you can jump on me. [Waits for the deluge]

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    Awww,...puppies? ...couldn't you have at least included a gratuitous link to 101 Dalmatians? – Cascabel Jul 27 '19 at 0:58
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    @Cascabel I don't know what came over me. I'm not even drunk. – Mick Jul 27 '19 at 1:00
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    I love puppies.. – Cascabel Jul 27 '19 at 1:03
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    I could change it to kittens. – Mick Jul 27 '19 at 1:04
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    It's OK. I'm gonna go back to watching 101 Dalmatians with the kids:-) – Cascabel Jul 27 '19 at 1:06
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Deluge:

deluge somebody/something (with something) [usually passive] to send or give someone or something a large number of things at the same time.

  • We have been deluged with applications for the job.

  • He was deluged with phone calls from friends and colleagues.

  • Applicants deluged the office with calls.

(OLD)

Google Books shows both usages but deluged by is less commonly used.

As noted the Oxford Dictionary suggest both usages:

  • cottages were deluged by heavy rains.

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