I need the clarification of these two particular instances.

Do this to your computer when you finish using it.
Do this with information that you don't want to keep on your computer.

What rule am I to use in order to choose the right preposition?

  • 1
    There are entire books on English prepositions but it is against site policy to make specific recommendations. You can search for English prepositions on a well-known online bookstore.
    – TimR
    Nov 14, 2018 at 17:10
  • 1
    well-known to whom?
    – Yukatan
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:17
  • 4
    @Tᴚoɯɐuo I don't think it's against site policy to make specific recommendations, none that I can recall anyway. It is against policy for askers to request resources/book recommendations, though. Just a minor clarification.
    – Em.
    Nov 14, 2018 at 21:46
  • @Yukatan, use the @ character to ping a user, eg. @Em. Also, please ask one question (about one problem) per post. And please edit your post to make clarifications. Remember to include details about your confusion or concern so that visitors and answerers can have a clear idea of your problem. See Details, Please and the Contributor's Guide (Asking) for tips and examples.
    – Em.
    Nov 14, 2018 at 21:49
  • The "rule" would be something like this: do something to something else. do x with y. So, in fact, you already know these points.
    – Lambie
    Jun 29, 2021 at 22:25

1 Answer 1


The object of to in your example is a thing directly acted-upon. You turn the computer off. But to has many other semantic functions.

The object of with in your example is a thing involved in the action you take. You throw the information away. You put it in the trashcan. Ditto for with : it has many semantic functions too.

Oh no. What did you do to the cat?
-- I painted it blue.

How did you erase the chalkboard? It's so nice and black.
-- I erased it with a felt eraser and then wiped it with a damp cloth.

What shall we do with the cat now that you have painted it blue?

That last question: what action shall we take involving the cat or respecting the cat or vis-à-vis the cat? We are not going to do anything directly to the cat, but we are going to take some action in which it will participate or be involved:

We will give the cat away.

The cat has not been changed intrinsically. Nothing has been done to it by giving it away.

Thinking on the etymology of respect and regard in the context of with and vis-à-vis will give you insights into the semantics of the pronoun.

  • I don't see how your example with 'with' illustrates my question with the same preposition. I take it you're talking about the phenomenon of the so called instrumental case because the example you give is what it is as in: to write with a pen, to take pictures with a camera, to cut with a knife, to fish with a net.. but to do smth with informarion is in my opinion a different kind of matter, am I mistaken in thinking so?
    – Yukatan
    Nov 14, 2018 at 19:59
  • I can add another example of "involved in" the action in some way. But you could write a dissertation on with. Your request for a single rule is shall we say overly optimistic.
    – TimR
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:02
  • all the examples I have given above in the comment - not the original question - are translated into Russian using thе so called instrumental case but not the examples with the information or the cat.. the examples of felt eraser and damp cloth also fall under the category of the instrumental case.
    – Yukatan
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:09
  • and I guess the cat is also directly acted upon though it isn't altered in any way due to this action.. does the given computer undergo any changes intrinsically due to the action of switching it on/off?
    – Yukatan
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:14
  • The computer is intrinsically off or on. Its essential state changes. The cat changes its color. That's an attribute of the cat per se. The cat's location is not an attribute of the cat per se. In English, back when it had declensions more than a millennium ago, wið could be used with genitive, dative, and accusative.
    – TimR
    Nov 14, 2018 at 20:19

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