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Can we use the phrase "by means of" instead of "with the help of", and vice versa?

Example: I wrote above text by means of / with the help of a keyboard.

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  • FWIW, ngrams for means/help of a friend -- usage seems to have changed mid 19th century. A hammer, albeit a tool, appears to have been a helpful sort of thing rather than a means to an end, although its helpfulness has been in a steady decline..
    – Michael E2
    May 5 '15 at 1:38
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"By means of" is generally used when describing a tool or a mechanism. "With the help of" is more often used to refer to a source of assistance.

So, "I typed this comment by means of a keyboard." Yes. "I typed this comment with the help of a keyboard." I'd say no. The keyboard did not assist you, it was a tool. "I typed this comment with the help of my friend Alice." If Alice provided advice, or assisted you in using the keyboard, yes.

For the most part, I think people use "by means of" when discussing an inanimate object and "with the help of" when talking about a person or people. But that's not a hard and fast rule. "I sent this message by means of Bob" might be considered a reasonable sentence, if Bob was the messenger. I think it's awkward, but possible. "I found my way with the help of a GPS" works, if you're thinking of the GPS as assisting you in the task.

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  • Just to add, for inanimate objects, I'd say it would come down to primary vs secondary tools — "I drew the line by means of a pen", "I drew a straight line with the help of a ruler". May 5 '15 at 14:40
  • @anotherdave Yes, "with the help of a ruler" sounds right to me. I'm just going by a fuzzy intuition here, hard to say why "help of a GPS" and "help of a ruler" "sound right" while "I drove with the help of a car" and "I wrote with the help of a pen" definitely do not.
    – Jay
    May 5 '15 at 14:44
  • I think it down to the use of the tool in the action. You could not drive without a car — it's the means by which you are completing the task :) You could drive without a GPS, though you might get lost more, so in this case it's helping you to get the task done more quickly/easily. May 5 '15 at 14:47
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    @anotherdave Sure, I get your point, and it sounds plausible. I'm not disagreeing, I just don't want to express whole-hearted agreement without thinking it through further. :-)
    – Jay
    May 5 '15 at 15:25
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Often, but not always. Saying, for example, that you finished a report "by means of my friend Jerry" sounds strange and rather unpleasant. But saying you finished the same report "with the help of Jerry" is perfectly natural and clear.

I can't immediately think of a similar example for the converse, so you should be able to go with the rule of thumb that "by means of" is a narrower phrase that mostly belongs in a sentence when you're referring to something that's essentially mechanistic or impersonal: a tool, not a human or animal.

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"by means of" means "through the use of". thus the difference is "through the use of" vs "with the help of". further, "through the use of" is certainly akin to "facilitated by" and near "because of".

hence, "by means of" is a deterministic relationship, as in "it is done this way because i used this thing."

"I typed this comment through the use of a keyboard." yes, because keyboards type things.

however,

"I wrote the above text by means of a keyboard." no, because keyboards don't exclusively 'write'; they frigging type.

but

"I wrote the above text with the help of a keyboard." yes, because typing helps in the process of writing -- but doesn't make it so. most authors use keyboards to help them write their books.

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