Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Idioms: Preoccupied By vs. Preoccupied With

Nick writes:
Hi Snarky! Please tell me which is correct: I'm 'preoccupied by' video games or 'preoccupied with' video games? I hear it both ways.
This is a super example of an idiom that ends with a preposition. An idiom is an expression that requires using a certain string of words. Idioms can be particularly tricky when they include prepositions, because very often there is no grammatical reason why one preposition is better than another; it's simply that a particular combination of words became accepted and now it's a part of our language.

Quick rule:
  • There are many idioms that require a certain preposition. Examples include: able to, capable of, prohibited from, and preoccupied with.

Snarky Tip:
  • When you're unsure of which preposition to use in an idiom, it's often helpful to play with it. Change another word in the idiom from a verb to noun or vice versa. Put the sentence in a different tense. Or switch from the active to the passive voice or vice versa. Then, very often, the choice becomes clear.
I am preoccupied by nice clothes. >> Change 'preoccupy' to its noun form. I have a preoccupation by with nice clothes. That doesn't sound right! >> I am preoccupied with nice clothes.

  • I am preoccupied with video games.


  1. It seems to me that "preoccupied with" suggests that I am thinking of the subject, whereas "preoccupied by" suggests that the object is working on me.

  2. That distinction between "preoccupied with" and "preoccupied by" is how I interpret them, too. The bigger challenge, I think, is between "preoccupied with" and "preoccupied about". Among some recents examples I have had, both sound appropriate, even with the preceding Snarky Tip.

  3. There we usually find more of the values and sufficient prospects which are considered to be of great cause and hopefully will lead them towards better stage.

  4. To take steps along with the government and point out the rights of poor sectors and communities, private schools should also have to provide education with the light fees for those who deserves it. summarizing a journal article