I have been working with an extract from an 1861 newspaper (in Queensland, now part of Australia) concerning an act of mass insubordination by seamen.

The text reads

The whole of the men, I am told, belonged to the same "watch", and they adopted this manoeuvre in order to get three months imprisonment, and so free themselves from the ship, the men having a particular dislike to the mate appointed over them.

I am intrigued by the construction "having a ... dislike to...". In modern writing, I would expect "taking a dislike to" or "having a dislike for".

Was the forming having ..to once common, and when did it change?


3 Answers 3


Take a look at these google ngrams.

"having a dislike to":

enter image description here

"having a dislike for":

enter image description here

As you can see, "Having a dislike to" was losing its popularity since the beginning of the 19th century, and now it's almost unused. "Having a dislike for", on the other hand, started rising in the middle of 19th century, had a couple of peaks, and then lost some popularity, but is still used much more than "having a dislike to".

  • 1
    nGrams can always help visualize trends and preferences. However, drawing conclusions directly and exclusively from nGrams is not advisable. I'm not being skeptical, I'm saying this from observing nGrams in various contexts.
    – Kris
    Oct 29, 2012 at 8:31
  • @Jase You mean extrapolated? Thereby forecasting future trends.
    – Kris
    Oct 29, 2012 at 12:15

There seems to be an overwhelming preference for dislike of over dislike to. It is twice as frequent in citations in the Oxford English Dictionary, and about 5.5 times more frequent in both the Corpus of Contemporary American English, and the British National Corpus. However, quick research into questions like this can be unreliable, because it is really necessary to examine the context of each record. For example, we would need distinguish cases of dislike to followed by an infinitive from cases of dislike to followed by a noun phrase.

Going into this sort of detail, and establishing how and when one became more popular than the other, assuming there has not always been this difference, would take a considerable amount of time and effort.


Ngrams aside – although there are some interesting ones – I think a key factor here is the context of the original sentence:

...the men having a particular dislike to the mate appointed over them.

In this case, I think if I were to change the preposition, I would not change it to for, but to toward instead. Dislike is an emotion, when pointed at another individual, it can be pointed toward that person.

Had the sentence instead read:

the men had a particular dislike to the rough seas.

then I'd probably change it to dislike for.

I've said it many times on ELU: prepositions are small, flexible words, and there are countless instances where more than one of them will suffice just fine, so it should come as no surprise when we stumble across one that wouldn't have picked as our first option – whether we find it by accident, or on accident. More likely than not, such unexpected usage is a sign of the word's flexibility, rather than that a writer has selected the "wrong" preposition.

  • I wonder whether on-vs-by accident mightn’t be regional distinction.
    – tchrist
    Oct 29, 2012 at 12:19
  • @tchrist: I never heard "on accident" until my kids started saying it. Initially, I tried correcting them, but eventually gave up. I now regard it as an acceptable alternative.
    – J.R.
    Oct 29, 2012 at 12:39
  • Maybe it is generational then. I have only noticed it in kids.
    – tchrist
    Oct 29, 2012 at 13:10
  • 1
    @tchrist: Likely a bit of both, but it seems to be commoner among young folk. There is a 2006 research paper to that effect. And on accident makes as much sense as on purpose, which I think was previously of purpose anyhow. Progress marches on.
    – Jon Purdy
    Oct 29, 2012 at 14:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.