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I'd always used "mistake(n) for" until today I came upon

you could easily be mistaken as one.

I wanted to see if it was correct or if it was a mistake so I looked into the matter and found:

  • my dictionaries only give "mistake for".

The doctor mistook the symptoms for blood poisoning. (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English)

You mustn't mistake lack of formal education for lack of wisdom. (Collins Cobuild)

Members of an army patrol mistook him for the gunman. ( BBC English Dictionary)

  • A quick search on the internet showed "mistake(n) as" is quite common, but not as common as "mistaken for". This was confirmed by an Ngram.

I even found both on the same page:

Why getting mistaken for a native speaker is much easier than you think.

and

he has never in his life come across a language learner who is mistaken as a native the entire time

I really cannot perceive any difference at all in the meaning of mistaken as and mistaken for in these two sentences above.

I had the same feeling on that page, where both are used :

mistaken as 10 mg if the decimal point is not seen expressed in whole numbers

100000 has been mistaken for 10,000 or ....

That document is pretty consistent in the use of "mistaken as" except in a couple of places, so I thought it could be because of different collaborators having different speech habits.

  • My browsing even led me to "mistaken with"

Custom route mistaken with product id

You must have me mistaken with someone else.

I somehow feel I could use for is these two sentences but not as but I'm at a loss to say why.

My questions:
- Since apparently for, with, & as are used in after the verb "mistake" to mean we wrongly think something or someone is something else or someone else, can they be used indifferently ? If yes, are there nevertheless slight subtleties to be considered?
- Could difference in usage be a matter of regional habits (AmE vs BrE vs AusE etc.)?

  • In COCA, mistaken for is roughly 20 times more popular than mistaken as. In the Google Books result you linked to, it's about 12 times more common. Note that the mistaken as results are inflated somewhat by standard usage such as mistaken as to whether, mistaken as to how, as mistaken as I was, not so much mistaken as, and so on. – snailcar Mar 7 '14 at 9:52
  • @snailplane: You confirm what I found. And I had since a look at the OED (CDrom edition), nothing mentioned in the definitions but in the examples I found 210 "mistaken for", 6 "mistaken as", 1 "mistaken with". To put it in a nutshell to answer my question, from what you & Fumble Fingers say although not standard "as" is not perceived as "wrong" and no nuance in meaning intended. Same with "with" that is even rarer. – Laure Mar 7 '14 at 11:30
2

I think you're overanalysing this one. Obviously native speakers often make "slips" like this, especially in casual conversation or Q&A website comment posts.

In the case of X mistaken for Y, I imagine almost every competent native speaker would say for is "correct", but many if not most wouldn't see anything seriously "wrong" with as. A (probably, much smaller) number might not see much wrong with with.

This is an example of a comparatively minor slip. On a site like ELL, for example, many users are native speakers, and many aren't. As it happens, we have contextual information for the specific comment that sparked this question, making it highly likely that the writer is in fact a native speaker. But even if there were no such evidence, the fact of the usage itself would be no real reason to suppose otherwise.


This shouldn't be taken as a general principle for all "misused" prepositions, etc. Some errors are far less likely from native speakers, and far more likely to be seen as "giveaways" indicating "non-native".

  • My question was not about one comment post on EL&U, I only mentioned it because it started me thinking and I noticed it was not a one-person slip because I easily found other examples. I was looking for a more general answer about the use of the phrasal verb and not an answer partly about the content of comments on EL&U (even less on ELL). So would the answer to my question be that the only correct form is mistake for, all other occurrences are lapses of no consequence and do not convey any nuances in meaning? I'll gladly rephrase my question and eliminate the introduction if it can help. – Laure Mar 7 '14 at 7:17
  • @Laure: If you're simply asking about the acceptable range of prepositions that can occur in the construction "A was mistaken xxx B", that's covered by my second paragraph. It's bordering on General Reference, even for ELL. It makes no difference how many "non-standard" examples you find not using for. Personally I'd prefer you not to amend the question so it just asks "What's the correct preposition" because that's trivial. What's interesting is that you've hit on a case where there's no disagreement about what's "correct", yet minor lapses are not particularly "jarring". – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 7 '14 at 13:47

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