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Andrew was performing on the stage when suddenly an angry fan hit him with a stone for not playing his favorite track.

vs

Andrew was performing on the stage when suddenly an angry fan hit him by a stone for not playing his favorite track.


He was hit by plastic bottles too.

vs

He was hit with plastic bottles too.

Which preposition follows hit?

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    A fan hit him by a stone is ungrammatical. You can't use by in an active sense like this. Even he was hit by a stone is ambiguous. It could be that the stone came to life, picked up a stick and hit him with the stick! May 31, 2018 at 11:18
  • When I read the second example (hit him by a stone) I first assumed that there happened to be a bunch of stones on the stage (as props) and the fan hit him (with his fist) near one of them. May 31, 2018 at 18:54
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    @SethRobertson Which nicely points out that the sentence is not ungrammatical. The meaning of the grammatical interpretation is just such that people presume it unlikely and choose the meaning which makes the sentence ungrammatical. The fact this can happen has always confused me even though I understand it logically.
    – DRF
    Jun 1, 2018 at 11:03
  • @OscarBravo As Seth points out the sentence is grammatical just not if you want to say what you expect the speaker to want to say.
    – DRF
    Jun 1, 2018 at 11:05

3 Answers 3

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Traditionally, by indicated an agent, the doer of the action, and with indicated the instrument used by the agent.

However, there's a large grey area between the two.

If a fan hit Andrew with a stone, the implication is that the fan was holding the stone and using it as a weapon.

If Andrew was hit by a stone, the implication is that the fan threw the stone at Andrew or, in other circumstances, that the stone was dislodged and fell on Andrew.

The same applies to plastic bottles. One can be struck with a plastic bottle or by a plastic bottle.

When it comes to missiles, it's more complicated. People are struck by bullets and arrows, even though these are instruments rather than agents. You can also be struck by a (flying) knife although you are more likely to be stabbed with one.

We also talk about people being hit by a bus and killed by falling trees. You might be killed with a tree, but only if somebody was using the tree to kill you, which is a bit improbable although not impossible.

So the choice of preposition depends on the context and on idiomatic use.

http://www.grammaring.com/the-agent-with-the-passive-voice https://teddymedinal.blogspot.com/2015/01/prepositions-of-agent-or-instrument.html

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    so here's what I used to think- Andrew was hit by a truck. ( truck is the object that hit andrew). Richard hit Andrew with his truck ( richard, the doer, hit andrew, with his truck). If some object does something on a person or another object, we use BY and if we have mentioned the subject that makes it do something, we use With. Is this interpretation wrong/incorrect ? May 31, 2018 at 11:15
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    @SubratBavarianBastola Your interpretation would hold true in some circumstances but not in all. May 31, 2018 at 12:35
  • This is correct: both of your water bottle sentences work, but they mean different things (the first suggests angry fans threw water bottles at him; the second that the angry fans rushed the stage and used their water bottles like clubs to beat him). But note your second stone sentence doesn't work; you can't hit someone by something (unless you mean that you hit someone while standing next to the thing). If you want to keep the angry fan in the sentence, you'd have to reword it and probably include the verb throw somehow, e.g. "suddenly he was hit by a stone thrown by an angry fan."
    – 1006a
    May 31, 2018 at 17:29
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with is your preposition

According to Cambridge Dictionary

with [METHOD]

using something

He was shot at close range with a pistol.

She wiped her lipstick off with a tissue.

Join the two pieces together with glue.

Please handle this package with care.

by [AGENT]

used to show the person or thing that does something

by [METHOD]

used to show how something is done

Notice that the prepositions listed above answer these questions respectively: what?, who?, how?.

For example you can use by [AGENT] in

He was hit by plastic bottles too.

if we are talking about a movie in which a group of evil angry plastic bottles gain conscience and movility and rebel against humanity. But this situation rarely happens in real life. ;-)

IMPORTANT EDIT: As pointed by Ronald Sole, Chris Petheram and Shadur, you can actually be hit by non-conscious plastic bottles, for example if someone throws it to your head. Ronald has compiled some good examples in his answer.

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    You beat me by time! I was writing an answer almost similar to this! Worth to note that irrespective of logic shown here, we find both types of examples on COCA and Ngram! Anyway, +1
    – Maulik V
    May 31, 2018 at 9:52
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    @MaulikV You were going to use my Evil Bottles take the World script too? ;-P What is COCA? I don't know that acronym.
    – RubioRic
    May 31, 2018 at 9:56
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    Although you don't actually need conscious motive to use 'by'. See "During the Coke factory explosion, I was hit by plastic bottles" May 31, 2018 at 10:17
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    @ChrisPetheram You are right [Editing]
    – RubioRic
    May 31, 2018 at 10:19
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    @Ronald Sole , so here's what I used to think- Andrew was hit by a truck. ( truck is the object that hit andrew). Richard hit Andrew with his truck ( richard, the doer, hit andrew, with his truck). If some object does something on a person or another object, we use BY and if we have mentioned the subject that makes it do something, we use With. Is this interpretation wrong/incorrect? May 31, 2018 at 11:09
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He was hit by plastic bottles too.

This implies it was an accident, or that no one could be identified as the agent. So the bottles take on a connotation of agency to suggest no one is responsible, or that "He" was not an intended target. We say, "He was hit by a car," because it's usually accidental.

He was hit with plastic bottles too.

Here is a strong indication that another person is in the context, and was identified in some way, or that it was intentional by someone.

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