What is the difference(s) between "poisoned with" and "poisoned by"?

Example sentence:

This song is poisoned by unoriginal lyrics.


This song is poisoned with unoriginal lyrics/

  • 1
    I think 'by' is mostly used in passive voice. Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 15:48
  • 7
    The victim was poisoned by the murderer with arsenic. Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 15:58
  • @KateBunting - The murderer with the candlestick in the library was too late. ;-)
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 16:26
  • 1
    I'd use 'by' here, in spite of Kate's intelligent observation. The 'unoriginal lyrics' are the active (but non-sentient) agent here rather than the instrument, the chosen way (to poison the song!?) Poisoned with = poisoned using. Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 18:27
  • I don't think a native speaker would say either of your example sentences. "Poisoned" is the wrong verb. "Spoilt" or "ruined" would be more usual, and in both these cases you need "by".
    – TonyK
    Commented Apr 22, 2020 at 20:32

1 Answer 1


I As pertains to toxic substances, an expression of their agentive function in a given case of poisoning is apparently rendered by means of either preposition.

    • the baits poisoned with white arsenic
    • Eight poisoned with rum died on the sixteenth day
    • I feared he'd been poisoned with propananol
    • poisoned with cadmium, zinc and lead, with plants that have a high tolerance for 'heavy' metals.
    • With this instrument, it being poisoned with the gum of the Upai
    • In animals poisoned with the hydrocyanate of potass
    • Groats poisoned by lead,
    • 9 Poisoned by overdose of laudanum
    • native varieties were poisoned by dusting from a sack
    • poisoned by hydrogen sulfide
    • in the viscera of a cat poisoned by strychnia
    • lances and arrows of bamboo, whose iron heads were poisoned by a wash of arsenic mixed with lemon-juice
    • poisoned by a lethal dose of Polonium 210
    • discovers Finn is an ailing pooka, poisoned by the city's pollution. To help him recover

II The strong agentive connotations that suggests "by" make it, in my opinion, more suited to highlight a relation in which the poison itself, not being the true agent, is instead manipulated, insinuated, or caused to become effective, by the true agent. This principle is applied absolutely when the agent is a human being: "with" cannot be found. Here is an example which illustrates that and shows at the same time a useful consequence of the usage of both "by" and "with" described above.

  • This emperor had a strong predilection for mushrooms, he was poisoned with them by Agrippina

In the realm of the figurative, whether this distinction is made consistently or not, or not at all, the use of both prepositions is common.


  • seeing the soul to be poisoned with the settling of sin
  • therefore his countrymen are not poisoned with modern philosophy
  • the man of today has been poisoned with Islamic views
  • Man has been poisoned with the evil nature of Satan
  • He will become poisoned with pride and begin to fancy that
  • His ambition being poisoned with envy,
  • The public mind was poisoned with slanders,


  • Poisoned by Lies and HyPocrisy
  • I am Poisoned by society and social habits
  • For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity
  • Let us not be poisoned by the words and acts
  • His most unhappy life was poisoned by the dread of leaving his children and fortune to be torn to pieces by his frantic wife
  • should be poisoned by the sting of vengeance
  • the purest intellectual pleasures are poisoned by bodily pain

It seems, nevertheless, that in this domain,

1/ when the agent is external to the entity being poisoned, when it is not a part of it, merely acting upon it from an external situation, and

2/ when the agent is considered as a possibly impinging element and not as a normally co-occurring one,

the use of "by" tends to be preferable, and that, when these criteria are not satisfied, "with" does.

This first point (1/) tends to be verified in the literal sense of "poisoned", since in the context of the poisoning through the effects of pollution "with" is not found (ref.).
In the light of the last example in "2." above, this second point (2/) seems rather obvious; if we were to say "the purest intellectual pleasures are poisoned with bodily pain" we'd derive from it that bodily pain accompanies always the purest intellectual pleasures, which is not true. Instead, the preposition "by" manages in the import of the statement the understanding that the two phenomena are only incidental one to the other.

As the example in the question post is not the statement of a generality, "2/" is not relevant. One might choose "with" on the basis of "1/" but as well use "by"; to present the unoriginal lyrics as a poisoned part (with), or to infer possibly that the effect on the rest of the lyrics is detrimental, as the poison acts upon them (by), can be conveyed in any case by this sentence on the basis of added precisions, not to say that which preposition to use doesn't matter.

  • This song is poisoned with/by unoriginal lyrics.

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