With… With… and… With?

I once went to the park with a friend in order to eat badgers with spoons, but the people there got very angry with us because of it.

… Notice that I used the word “with” three times in the above sentence. But each time I did so, its meaning was distinctly different. This may not be very difficult for a fluent English speaker, but it does seem a bit much. Plus, it’s needless ambiguity! If you’re English, the last “with” will probably seem most likely to mean that the people were angry at my friend and I. But why doesn’t the “with” mean the same as it does in the first instance? In other words, why doesn’t it mean that the people got angry at the same time (or at the same thing) as my friend and I? Because they got angry with us!

Same with the second example, why aren’t we eating badgers that are together with spoons? Instead we are using the spoons to eat the badgers.

So what does Esperanto do about this? Three different words!

  • Kun = “with” in the sense of being together with something.
  • Per = “with” or “by means of”, eat badgers by means of spoons.
  • Kontraŭ = “with” or “against”. Think of it as being angry against someone, rather than together with them.

8 thoughts on “With… With… and… With?

  1. Can ĉe be used instead of kontraŭ in the last instance of “with” (They are angry with/at us)? Or is ĉe “at” only in the sense of place/time? I just read your post on “ĉe” and I’m struggling with knowing when ĉe is appropriate.
    Follow-up question: What Esperanto word for “with” would replace “with” in the context of “struggling with” in the way that I just used it? As in, I’m not struggling *against* understanding, but I’m struggling *to* understand.
    I never realized how tricky languages are until I tried learning a second one haha.

    • Hullo 🙂 If you were to say “Ili koleras ĉe ni” that would be like saying “they are being angry at ours (at our house)”. Because, as you guessed, I think “ĉe” has that very certain set of place/time meanings. — Usually I would use “kontraŭ” for struggling with something. One of the ways that the PIV (vortaro.net) defines “kontraŭ” is a preposition that shows a thing to which is being directed hinderance/defence/protection from. So when we say the equivalent of “struggle against” (barakti kontraŭ) we are saying that the struggle is defence or hindrance. So if I were translating “I struggled with the chains” I’d use kontraŭ. Because I’m working against the chains. But in your example you are not working against understanding. You are struggling *in order to* understand. I think I’d translate this as “mi baraktas por kompreni”. Tricky indeed!

  2. “If you’re English, the last ‘with’ will probably seem most likely to mean that the people were angry at my friend and I.”

    First, it’s not correct to say “angry at”. And second, it should be “my friend and me”. There is nothing wrong with using “me” in a list, IF it is an object. Would you ever say “they were angry with I”?

    • After years of being told to only ever say “X and I” (where X is the person I’m conjuncting myself with), it was only like 2 years ago that I found that what you’re saying is correct. It’s another one of those things I still slip up on when writing tired.

      However, ĉe “angry at”, I would have said it has a different nuance to “with”, but that it’s usage is so widespread that it couldn’t be incorrect. Can you point me to a modern grammatical resource which denies this?

  3. I remember trying to teach a bit of English to some Arab friends who absolutely refused to believe that “angry with” means what it means. As I recall (I’ve forgotten a lot), in Arabic you get angry “against” someone, like you explained here, so the expression “angry with” seemed just unbelievably backwards to them. They were convinced I had misunderstood the question.

    • Awesome! I love such differences in how we understand things. Although now that my brain has started working in this way (against instead of with), I find myself tempted to say it that way in English too! I start to think how ambiguous my “with”s are and have to try to stop myself from saying “against”!

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