Ask A Linguist For October 1997 - December 1997
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> From: Jason Drew <email@example.com>
> Perhaps you could settle an argument before it turns violent:
> Is the word "using", in a phrase such as "opening a letter
> using a letter opener," a preposition?
> According to the criteria for such things, it seems (to me) that
> it is, but I haven't come across "using" in any list of
> prepositions, and a (misguided?) friend insists that it isn't.
> Any takers? Thanks, in advance.
'Using' is technically *not* a preposition - at least not according
to conventional grammatical analysis. It does, however, *function* as a
preposition here, i.e. you could say that it marks an 'instrumental case'
(though such a case is not overtly marked in English). To draw a
comparison with another language: in Chinese, 'using' something to perform
some action is the normal way to express the instrumental 'case' (note
that Chinese is an uninflected language, and is similar to English in this
particular usage). One says in Chinese: 'She used a ruler to hit me.' to
mean 'She hit me *with* a ruler.'
Karen Steffen Chung
National Taiwan University
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