There are several questions regarding the distinction between by and through, but still, I cannot seem to decide which of these prepositions suits better in the context below. What do you think?

X understood by/through studying its two principal components.


  • 1
    In this case, both mean the same because you're describing the manner in which X understood/achieved something. Since 'studying' describes an activity, 'through' can also be used here. For example, 'paid by cash' is correct, but 'paid through cash' is wrong. However, 'paid through Cash System(ATM, or Paypal transfer, etc)' is correct, too. So, in this case, both 'by' and 'through' can be interchanged.
    – VKBoy
    Dec 17, 2020 at 7:00
  • 1
    'by' sharper than 'through'. E.g., In 'done by something/someone', by is a focused intervention more than 'done through someone/ something' (if it could be used so).
    – Ram Pillai
    Dec 17, 2020 at 8:24
  • Thank you all. I believe, I now see the rationale behind it.
    – Liber
    Dec 17, 2020 at 8:37
  • 2
    I'd choose 'understood by studying' or 'understood through the study of'. Amazingly, Google ngrams are in agreement. Dec 17, 2020 at 17:32

2 Answers 2


Idiomatic usage may be hard to predict, and idioms are by definition irregular in some way/s. Prepositional usage can often be deemed to involve idiom.

I'd choose understood by studying or understood through the study of , and I'm gratified to see that Google ngrams don't contraindicate.

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When the meaning involves "obtaining" something, both "by" and "through" are generally correct and understandable -- and other prepositions can work as well.

"I gained knowledge (by/through/from) studying x"

"I earned a good living (by/through/from/when/while) working in the financial industry."

In the case of "learning something," then "through" might suggest more time or more of a process than "by," but both clearly point to a source of an outcome. I don't believe there is a best or more correct choice between "through" and "by" in the example given.

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