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Are there any firm rules of how to pick out the right preposition to use after the adjectives expressing irritation, touchiness, annoyance (fractious, nettlesome, peevish, petulant, testy, tetchy, irritable, cross, grumpy, huffy, touchy, feisty)?

For example: huffy (grumpy, peevish) about somebody/something but irascible (irritable, cross) with... and mad at/with...

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  • Most of your adjectives normally describe inherent, permanent dispositions / personality traits, so they don't often occur in contexts requiring a preposition to link some specific cause of the mental state (as a reaction to something). Some of your adjectives often occur in conjunction with a specific "irritant", so you'll often hear things like He's touchy about his baldness, but you won't often hear a word like feisty prepositionally linked to some situation or person who causes the subject to be like that. Jan 13, 2020 at 15:46
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    ...also note that you can be cross about / at / with [someone or something]. Sometimes it makes no real difference which preposition you use, but the exact context may affect your choice. For example, I'm cross about my son, who failed his exam might actually imply I'm annoyed at the teachers or examiners for doing a bad job (my son being a victim of "injustice"; he should have passed) - but I'm cross at / with my son, who failed his exam unambiguously asserts that my son himself is the object of my ire. Jan 13, 2020 at 15:53
  • If you search this site for "angry at" you'll find variations on this question.
    – nschneid
    Oct 21, 2021 at 19:33

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Prepositions are one of the hardest parts of English grammar. They don't conform to a logical, consistent system and they vary widely by dialect. So there's no fail-safe option but to absorb them through usage. In general, though, in standard American English:

  • About and sometimes over are used for an action or something intangible. You're mad/angry about the way she treated them. You're upset about his dismissive attitude. (With "upset," but not "mad" or "angry," you can use over in these contexts. Your upset over your experience at the DMV.)
  • At and sometimes with are used for people. You're mad/angry at him. You're upset at her. (Again, upset is a little different, and you can be upset with someone. You can be angry with them too, but being mad with them is non-standard. Of course, to be mad for someone is to be in love with them. Prepositions are hard.)

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