What does "with" mean in this sentence:

You should not have bitten more than you can chew with this project.

Can we use "in" or "because of" instead of "with" in the mentioned sentence?


"with this project" is a prepositional phrase modifying "bitten off more than you can chew".

"with" is the preposition which relates the action "bitten off more than you can chew" to the thing "this project".

"with" works because "with" acts as a general relation between actions and tools/methods ("I solved this problem with math", "I hit the ball with the bat", "I made my friend laugh with a joke"), even when the actions (biting off more than you can chew) and the tools/methods (this project) aren't physical.

"because of" does not work because the project did not cause you to bite off more than you could chew. You did it to yourself, and the project was a thing you used in that action. So "because of" doesn't describe the relation.

"in" isn't right either. Looking through the possible usages of "in" (preposition) in the dictionary, none of them really fit. It sounds like the person has bitten off more than they can chew, while enclosed by a giant project folder.

I hope that helps! Common prepositions (with, in, on) can specify a lot of possible relations (dictionaries have lists!), but "with" is the most appropriate one here.

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    Interestingly enough, I could say: "I've bitten off more than I can chew because of this project," if I wanted to express how this project was the metaphorical "straw the broke the camel's back" in my already hectic life. However, in the sentence provided by the O.P., "because of" would not be appropriate, due to the reasons you list here. – J.R. Sep 5 '16 at 9:54
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    Unlike @Ollin Boer Bohan, I see no problem with "in" here: "in" is often used in metaphorical ways; but "with" is more normal. "Around" is also possible, as are "in relation to", and "concerning". – Colin Fine Sep 5 '16 at 10:36
  • Are there any synonyms for "with" that can be substituted for it ? – Mehrdad Moshaver Sep 6 '16 at 7:52
  • "in" is the closest single-word substitution I can think of (and it's still not quite appropriate). However, there are multi-word substitutions like "by taking on", "by joining" or "by accepting" that work fine in this context ("in taking on", "in joining", or "in accepting" make sense as well). I can't think of any other replacements that aren't of the form "by|in <thing you did to join the project>ing" that other commenters haven't already mentioned, but there are probably others I haven't thought of. – Ollin Boer Bohan Sep 6 '16 at 17:16

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