3

Here is the sentence in question including some contexts:

"I don’t know how long I stood there weighing the pros against the cons — doing the right thing by Jacob, seeing my closest friend again, being a good person, versus making Edward furious with me."

Could you use 'with' here instead of 'by' or turn the original sentence into “...doing the right thing with Jacob by seeing him, my best friend, again...” ?

5

No, you cannot use with here. That’s because to do right by means, per the OED:

to do right by: to treat fairly or honourably; to do one's duty by.

They provide various citations starting more than 200 years ago, but of which the two most recent are:

  • 1994 Denver Post 21 Aug. b9/2
    The team has chosen to do right by the city and its citizens.
  • 2004 S. Brown White Hot 21
    That gal won't see one red cent of my money. Not unless she does right by you and gives you a divorce.

So you cannot just swap in with for by here. This has a fixed meaning that would be destroyed if you were to do that, and people would not understand you.

It seems to me that I’ve seen this with an indirect object instead of a preposition, but I’ll have to get back to you on that.

  • Ah, I didn't know it was like a set phrase. Thank you for pulling up the citations. They made the sense of 'treat someone decently' very clear for me. But about the part of it being used with 'an indirect object instead of a preposition', I am still a bit confused. I hope I can hear from you soon ^v^. – Jenny Aug 26 '20 at 12:25
  • The variant 'do the right thing by'? – Edwin Ashworth Aug 26 '20 at 14:10
  • Ah, that's what tchrist was refering to. But shouldn't ' the right thing' be the direct object of 'do'? Or am I getting something wrong here? – Jenny Aug 26 '20 at 14:28
  • @Jenny Yes, "to do him right" (etc) is an alternate formulation that uses an indirect object instead of a prepositional phrase to mean the same thing here. – tchrist Aug 26 '20 at 22:39
-1

Yes, you can certainly use with. However, if it will not mean the same thing as it would if you used by.

The two different senses can be paraphrased.

doing the right thing by:

"I don’t know how long I stood there weighing the pros against the cons—doing what's right for Jacob [giving him the money I found], seeing my closest friend again, being a good person, versus making Edward furious with me."

doing the right thing with:

"I don’t know how long I stood there weighing the pros against the cons — Jacob and I doing the right thing [giving the money we both found to the police], seeing my closest friend again, being a good person, versus making Edward furious with me."

Both are grammatical, but the meaning changes. By means that the thing that's right benefits the person; with means that the right thing is by both you and the other person together.

Not only are both interpretations grammatical, but they also both make sense and are understandable in this sentence.

I wouldn't change the word on a whim, especially if the use of by was intentional, because they are not interchangeable, but if composing a sentence either could be used, depending on the particular meaning you want to convey.

  • Thank you so much! I didn't know 'by' carried a sense of benefiting the following person. Lesson learned. 😊 – Jenny Aug 26 '20 at 12:22

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