I would use the verb clothe either with the preposition with or in. Is there any difference in meaning?

On free dictionary I found this example:

She clothed her children in the finest garments.

In the KJV Bible I found:

And David was clothed with a robe of fine linen (1 Chron. 15:27).

Is clothe with less used in modern language? Is there any difference between clothe with and clothe in?

I would like to use it in a sentence in a text of rather antiquated atmosphere, so less common use would also be ok. The sentence would be:

The brightness of her new life clothed her with/in a garment of joy that was hard to ignore.

  • 1
    Maybe I’m just influenced by your examples but, to my ear, in is more for children and with for adults. If the wearer has agency, with; if none, in.
    – Unrelated
    Dec 23, 2020 at 22:42

1 Answer 1


In the literal sense there is no difference brought about by the particular preposition used. In the several figurative senses, similarly, the two prepositions are used with no difference in almost all cases. In one case "in" is not used.

(Some senses have been omitted, in particular obsolete)

(SOED) Also (obsolete) cloath. Pa.t. and ppl. clothed (arch., techn., and formal) clad.
I lit. 1 v.t. Provide with clothes; put clothes upon; dress. (Followed by in, with)
II fig. 5 v.t. Cover as with clothes or a cloth (Followed by in, with)
            6 v.t. Conceal the true nature or form of; disguise (Followed by in, with)
            7 v.t. Invest or endue with a character, attributes etc.; endow with power, a liability, etc.
            8 v.t. Express (thoughts, ideas, etc.) in, with.

5 CARLYLE Thus he [Man] is also said to be clothed with a body.
     H. BELLOC A wood … clothing a rocky peak.
7 BUNYAN With such gravity cloath every page
    JEFFERSON The clauses clothing … consuls with privileges of the laws of nations.

There is no significant preference of preposition but a clear tendency for using the participles and the past rather than the infinitive or the present (ngram 1, ngram 2).

She clothed her children in the finest garments.
     This is an instance of the literary usage (1), as is the second sentence.

The last sentence is an instance of "7", but according to the usage of preposition made precise in "7", "in" should not be used.

  • Thank you, brilliant answer. Is the SOED available anywhere online? The OED has less information for "clothe" than SOED.
    – fev
    Dec 24, 2020 at 10:33
  • @fev I am only the amanuensis, praise to the SOED! I don't think anything is available online.
    – LPH
    Dec 24, 2020 at 10:37

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