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Which of the following is more correct:

We were provided a form to fill. We were provided with a form to fill.

If one is correct and the other is not, why?

And do both kinds of usages exist - 'provided' and 'provided with'... In what cases?

Thanks!

3 Answers 3

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SomebodySubject provides somebodyIndirectObject somethingDirectObject.
SomebodySubject provides somebodyDirectObject [PrepositionPhrase with something].

The two forms are exact equivalents, they are both current and idiomatic in all registers, and there is no reason to prefer one to the other in any context.

The double forms arose because at one time provide was often used in the sense equip, taking the entity supplied as its DirectObject: one spoke of providing an army or ship, meaning to supply it with whatever it needed. In this case, PrepositionPhrase was needed to specify what “provisions” were supplied.

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    I don't disagree - both are equivalent, current, and idiomatic. But I've also updated @Maulik's answer because in practice "were provided with food" is almost 5 times more common than "were provided food". Mar 11, 2014 at 22:15
  • @FumbleFingers You updated my answer?
    – Maulik V
    Mar 12, 2014 at 4:58
  • @FumbleFingers, after looking at some of the ocurrances in Google's ngram, I'm going to throw an hypothesys: I think "provided with sth" is used in passive voice (I was provided with ...), and "provide sth" is used in active voice (I provided ...).
    – Nico
    Mar 12, 2014 at 12:02
  • @Maulik: Slip of the brain/finger - I meant upvoted. Mar 12, 2014 at 14:12
  • @Nico: Don't read too much into that specific example - as StoneyB says, both forms are "current and idiomatic". And it's not just "passive voice" that affects the tendency to include with - "they provide us with food":797 results, "they provide us food":155 results. Mar 12, 2014 at 14:21
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I think it's all about the subtleties of using the prepositions.

you provide something (I'll provide the best service)
you provide something for somebody (I'll provide the best service for the residents of this area)
you provide somebody with something (I'll provide you with the best service in the industry) and,
you provide something to somebody (I'll provide the best service to the people in need).

So, I guess, in your case...

We were provided with a form to fill.

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After going through some of the uses linked by Google's ngram, the following pattern of use emerged:

  • provide something to someone: the use of "provide with" is not possible if the entity that is provided with something is introduced by the preposition "to".

    The Spanish provided weapons to the Creeks

  • provide something for someone: the use of "provide with" is not possible if the entity that is provided with something is introduced by the preposition "for".

    The Spanish provided a rich supply of mercenaries for Carthage

    Providence has provided Food for Animals

  • provide someone with something or someone is provided with something: if the entity that is provided with something appears in the sentence and is not introduced by prepositions "for" or "to", then the preferred form is "provide with":

    The Spanish provided Hannibal with a lot of his best troops.

    We were provided with food and water

  • provide something: if the entity that is provided with something does not appear in the sentence, then the preferred form is just "provide":

    Sheep and goats introduced by the Spanish provided new sources of food and raw materials, including wool for textiles.

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    Quite elaborate and useful. I guess that answers my doubts. I will keep this open for a few days for people to post more thoughts on this and then mark it as 'Answered'. Mar 12, 2014 at 13:40
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    I was confused by your explanation at first. (When I read your then the use of the preposition "with" is not possible, I thought, "it could if it were in the passive voice". It took me a while before I could figure out that you meant "with" cannot be used together with either "for" or "to".) I think your observation is correct. The main patterns seem to be: provide something [to|for] someone, provide someone with something, provide something. In case of someone is provided ..., I think the likely pattern is someone is provided with something, as you observed. Mar 12, 2014 at 14:08
  • @DamkerngT. I've rephrased the explanation of those two cases. Hope this helps prevent the confusion.
    – Nico
    Mar 12, 2014 at 14:22

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