13

Are all of those words used? How does the meaning of the sentence change when either one is used instead of the others?

1.I was disappointed with/by my result.

2.I am disappointed with/by/in you/him/her.

  • Are all of these words used? Yes, all of these and then some. Customers were disappointed over the company's decision to raise rates. – J.R. May 8 '14 at 16:52
17

The difference between "in", "by", and "with" in this context actually depends on the nature or type of disappointment you feel:

"Disappointed with" implies that the cause of the disappointment was something basic about the nature or attributes of the thing:

I was disappointed with my new toaster. It really didn't toast the bread as well as I hoped.

The "with" form is usually used with inanimate objects (like toasters), though can sometimes be used for people if you're expressing a general disappointment about their qualifications/abilities/etc, rather than being disappointed by any specific thing that they've done:

I was disappointed with the second candidate. He didn't really have the skills we need for the job.

On the other hand, "disappointed by" usually indicates that somebody has done something specific to cause you to be disappointed:

I was disappointed by Fred. He said he'd give me a ride, but he never showed up!

(The "by" form is occasionally used with objects, but most of the time only makes sense for people.)

"Disappointed in" usually indicates a deeper level of disappointment with the nature of somebody or something, or repeated problems with them, and often indicates that the speaker has lost faith in someone's ability to do what's expected of them:

I'm very disappointed in Bill. I thought he had experience with this job, but every time he does it he does something wrong.

or

I'm disappointed in the government. They just can't seem to get anything done!

3

Where the cause of disappointment is a person, we normally use in. Where the cause is a physical thing or an action/event, we're more likely to use by or with.

Thus, for OP's first example context, "I was disappointed by my result" is the most common form. There's nothing wrong with with there, but in is unlikely.

In OP's second example, the most common form is "I am disappointed in you". There's nothing inherently "wrong" with either with or by - they're just not so common.


Not all native speakers will necessarily agree with me here, but I feel the above usage tendencies can lead to a potential distinction...

1: "I am disappointed in you" (about 26,400 results in Google Books)
2: "I am disappointed with you" (525 results)
3: "I am disappointed by you" (7 results)

Apart from the obvious difference in prevalence, I think there's also a case for saying that #1 there tends to imply everything about you disappoints me, whereas #2 and #3 carry a stronger implication of being disappointed by some specific thing you did.

  • 3
    I think this sums it up pretty well, but I can see how this would be tricky for the learner. Consider: I was disappointed in John. He was two hours late. vs.: I was disappointed by how John was two hours late. In the second, the preposition changes, because we're not disappointed in John so much as we are disappointed over John's actions. – J.R. May 8 '14 at 17:34
1

Normal usage is as follows:

  1. Disappointed with (object) - an object of neutral gender. E.g: I am disappointed with your service.

  2. Disappointed over - an incidence.

  3. Disappointed in/with - very similar but slightly different connotation. 'In' is more personal and conveys reflection on the individual. 'With' is more used for disappointment over an isolated incidence.

  • I'm not sure I'd go along with the stuff about over here (being a fourth preposition that OP never even mentioned). I think it's just not used very often, so it doesn't have any real associations. – FumbleFingers May 8 '14 at 17:14
  • On the other hand, I appreciate how over was considered. It may not be found in books as often, but that doesn't make it less worthy of consideration. – J.R. May 8 '14 at 17:36
  • @J.R.: You might (with some justification, I guess) accuse me of "talking down" to learners, but I think my link in the previous comment shows quite clearly that over is very uncommon compared to the alternatives. In light of that (and my own experience), I just think it's not really worth introducing another preposition that will rarely work very well, and I suspect is never "the best choice". I'm not even sure it's worth distinguishing with/by - the only one that really counts is in [the totality of a person]. – FumbleFingers May 8 '14 at 18:09
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers if the number of results in google books' search is a valid benchmark, then searching for "disappointed over" gives 26,600 results. – battery May 8 '14 at 18:27
  • @battery: But if you're going to justify it using just two-word collocations, you have to compare those results to 1.5 million hits for "disappointed in". Also note that if we narrow things down by prefacing each by the word not, there are still almost half-a-million instances of not disappointed in - and just 747 hits for "not disappointed over". It's simply not a common preposition usage. – FumbleFingers May 9 '14 at 18:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.