relationship to / relationship with

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relationship to / relationship with

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Mar 16, 2012 9:05 pm

When I read the following it just didn’t sound right:
<2012 “In some ways, Cameron’s Euro-skepticism is nothing new. Ever since British entry into what was then the European Common Market 40 years ago, London has had an ambivalent relationship to Brussels.”—Newsweek, 19 March, page 33>
To my ear, it would be relationship ‘with’ Brussels. But I don’t know if there is a rule that would tell which is correct, or if it is the case that they are both correct.

Here are some examples, which I again evaluated strictly by ear:


a) He had a good relationship with/to his parents. [I’d say ‘with’]

b) They formed a new relationship with/to a Swiss company. [ I’d say ‘with’]

c) He said he had a strong relationship with/to God. [I’d say both, with the ‘to’ being the weaker]

d) The punishment bore little relationship with/to the crime. [I’d say ‘to’]

e) What is the relationship with/to poverty levels? [I’d say ‘to]

f) They studied problem-solving skills and the relationship with/to student outcomes. [I’d say ‘to’]


However if the there is an ‘in’ out front, I would always use ‘to.’

a) Apparent size changes in relationship ‘to’ what’s in the background.

b) They studied growth in relationship ‘to’ rainfall.

c) We feel rhythmic patterns in relationship ‘to’ beat and meter.

Any guidance on this weighty question?

Ken G – March 16, 2012

Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Fri Mar 16, 2012 10:25 pm

Yes, I don't think this one is a difference in styles across the Atlantic, Ken - I think it's just wrong. Between persons and/or groups of people, I'd say it's almost always with. Between factors and / or properties, to - as illustrated in your examples.

The Newsweek construction is probably a tired conflation of relationship with and attitude towards.

Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by Garanhir » Fri Mar 16, 2012 11:53 pm

Absolutely! Relationship with and in relation to are the forms I'd see as correct. I'm shocked at the august Newsweek being so lax.

Recently I've noticed quite a few uses of different to in the national press too - quite distressing.
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Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Mar 17, 2012 12:59 am

I'm quite happy with the use of to for intellectual, material etc relationships. eg

Brain Anatomy and Its Relationship to Behavior in Adults

sounds far better than the alternative using with to my ear.

And 46.6 million Google Hits is a very substantial return.

As regards different + prep, I too prefer different from, but different to (and different than) have long been accepted (see ... rent-than/).

Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sat Mar 17, 2012 11:53 am

Ken Greenwald wrote:“Ever since British entry into what was then the European Common Market 40 years ago, London has had an ambivalent relationship to Brussels.”
This really means “Ever since British entry into what was then the European Common Market 40 years ago, the British Government has had an ambivalent relationship [? to/with] the EU headquarters located in Brussels”.

To my mind, where personal contact and interaction is possible or implied, 'relationship with' is generally preferable.

As Edwin suggests, 'relationship to' is preferentially used to describe the relationship between one or more impersonal entities or concepts.

In my version of your sentence, Ken, the (admittedly rather notional) human connotations associated with the terms 'British Government' and 'EU headquarters' are still strong enough to justify 'relationship with'.

However, in your original wording, those entities have been metonymically reduced to impersonal geographical abstractions, hence 'relationship to' is more appropriate.

In your example sentence d), I would prefer 'relation' over 'relationship': The punishment bore little relation to the crime. Here the underlying meaning is "The punishment {was a poor match to / was not congruent with} the crime" -- not quite the same thing as not having a relationship to it.
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Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by zmjezhd » Sat Mar 17, 2012 3:46 pm

The entry on different from, than, to (link) in the MWDEU is well worth reading. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised that Fowler defends the use of different to (also mentioned in Edwin's link).

Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by dante » Sat Mar 17, 2012 8:03 pm

I think that the preposition "with" is required whenever the sense of interaction/ mutual dependency between the two or more concepts needs to be expressed. The verb used will determine the semantic type of the nouns related to each other in this sense. The first nouns in the pairs "noun with noun" obviously belong to the same semantic type, with "relationship" in 1 being the most general one, and the others can be subsumed under this general meaning:

1. He had a good relationship with/to his parents.
2. He had contact with them.
3. He had a deal with them.
4. He had a problem with them.
5. He had trouble with them.

For me, "to" wouldn't work after "relationship" in 1, or in any of the sentences above as a replacement for "with".
While the sense of interaction/kind of mutual relationship between the two noun phrases is direct in 1, 2 and 3, in 4 and 5 it isn't (e.g "He can have a problem with me, but I don't have a problem with him.). However, the sense of interaction is implied in these sentences too, as problematic relationship, troublesome relationship, business relationship is how it can be glossed.

Whenever the sense of interaction is lacking, it is most likely that some other preposition will be used. It is best visible when the verb "have" is used to speak about personal feelings, view, attitudes and similar:

He has passionate views on this subject.
He has a grudge against them.
He has feelings for her.

The same can be said about the sentence:

b) They formed a new relationship with/to a Swiss company.

The right choice of a preposition is "with".

The type of nouns is determined by the verb "form" :

They formed a partnership with..
They formed a coalition with..
They formed an alliance with..

We can use the verb "form" in a slightly different way and say:

He formed a strong affection to..
He formed a strong attachment to..

As it often happens unfortunately, both affection and attachment can be one-sided, so "to" and not "with". But, when a noun implying that feelings are mutual is used, "with" is again the right preposition:

He formed a bond with..

The same goes for :

The punishment bore little relationship with/to the crime.

The right choice of a preposition here is "to/towards" and "against".

Further, the "relationship" in its primary sense clearly must involve at least two people or things. While we don't need anyone to have a "problem" or "trouble", nouns like : "relationship" "partnership", "alliance", "coalition", "deal" etc naturally take "with" as we need a partner for a partnership, an ally for an alliance, someone to make contact with, or deal with etc. All these nouns are naturally followed by "with".

The fact that "relationship" can be followed by a preposition other than "with" as in:

c) He said he had a strong relationship to God.

e) What is the relationship to poverty levels?

for me can only mean that this sense of "relationship" excludes the interpretation where something is going on between two people or things both directions."Relationship" in c) obviously indicates personal belief, and in e) a logical dependence of poverty levels and something mentioned in the previous discourse.

Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Mar 17, 2012 10:32 pm

Dante - this is English.

Don't pin your hopes on panacean rules.

John is married to Jean. Happily.

Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by dante » Sun Mar 18, 2012 2:41 am

What I discussed was noun complements suggesting "interaction" Edwin, "married" is an adjective. But anyway, the noun "marriage" does allow "to + noun" complement along with "marriage with noun" (noun is most often a living person but doesn't need to be, so "noun") in the sense of "interaction" (at least theoretically:))

The noun "talk" (I had a talk to/with him) is another example where "to" expresses "interaction". The following observations made by native speakers about the difference between "talk to" and "talk with" on internet English language forums, applicable to the noun "talk", nicely illustrate my point about "with" implying "interaction" and "to" one-sided relationship between the participants/ things. ... x/post.htm
In the UK we dont say "talk with you" very often, but it depends on the context. Because "talk to" can sound a bit unequal, like a teacher lecturing someone, we might avoid using it ... for insatnce, if I want to ask a colleague to come in and talk I might phrase it as "can we have a chat later?"
talk to ' is more about the talking direction. It means the talking is from one position to another.

' talk with ' is of the similar level on both sides.
The idea that 'talk to' is used only when one person does all the talking is not correct. It can be used that way, but most of the time that is not what people mean when they say 'talk to'. People understand that they talk to each other.
You can mostly use them interchangably but maybe "with" is a bit more equal whereas "to" is more one way. If you talk to someone then you do more talking and they do more listening but if you talk with someone both talk and both listen. In reality it's far from being anything like as clean-cut as this but sometimes people might use the distinction this way, maybe. ... -with.html
"To," when using the verb "talk" is more of a one-way thing. One person is doing most of the talking and is in (at least) slightly more control than the person being talked to. "With" has more of a give-and-take meaning. We are both going to participate in the conversation as equals (or at least it makes it seem that we are equals).
Probably the better preposition to teach ESL students with "talk" is "with." It is more neutral and, perhaps, more equal-sounding than using the preposition "to" with this verb. Using "with" will work better more times than using "to." The odds are in favor of "with.
Anyway, "marriage", "talk" and I guess that there must be at least one more, maybe two or even three nouns (although I can't think of any at the moment) that take "to" complement instead of "with" to convey the sense of "interaction". On the other hand, there are semantic classes of nouns that select preposition "with" and no other to express this meaning. The typical class would be "coordination" (collaboration, collusion..). Another one could be "fight" nouns (brawl, altercation..), or "communication" (dialogue, conversation...) and so on, we could find more I'm sure.

Re: relationship to / relationship with

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sun Mar 18, 2012 9:38 pm

Yes, there are nuances, as your first quote above indicates - and it's a real skill judging how best to use those pesky little prepositions to communicate the intended meaning and connotations.
In my experience, for a 'neutral' conversation, I'm more familiar with "I was talking to Jim the other day" than "I was talking with Jim the other day" (which sounds rather American and perhaps connotes talking business, rather than 'neighbouring', in the UK); adding "just" as a mitigation marker (rather than in its 'merely' usage) - "I was just talking to Jim the other day" - emphasises the non-lecturing nature of the discourse.

"I gave Jim a good talking to", on the other hand, signifies a lambasting / roasting. (And one should always baste roasting lamb.)

To emphasize a lecturing (not lambasting) rather than open dialogue meaning, the preposition at may be pressed into service. See ... _them.html.

Idiomatic usage of prepositions (and related -y things!) is complex and can vary from region to region.

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