Saturday, February 12, 2011

out of proportion to

I was reading something recently and the expression "out of proportion to" caught my eye. Somehow the preposition "to" seemed odd, but at the time I couldn't figure out what I would rather use. Since then I've decided that I probably use "out of proportion with", though I'm much more likely to rephrase the entire sentence so that I can use "disproportionate(ly)". So I thought I'd do a little searching and see which is more common. Sure enough, the "to" version is significantly more common, with 8.7M ghits versus only 1.5M for "with". Those seem to be the only prepositions possible, both from my own intuitions and looking around on the interwebs. COCA gets 161 hits for "to" versus a mere 21 for "with". I did turn up one more preposition that I hadn't thought of, and didn't find from random google searches: "out of proportion from". COCA gives two hits ("Pain out of proportion from injury" and "privileges and a scale of living that were not only far out of proportion from what we had experienced back in the United States"), and google gives ~95k hits, only about 30% of which seem to be genuine "out of proportion P" constructions, so this usage seems to be rather rare. Not sure why I felt "to" was odd, and honestly I'm not even sure that if I used the construction I wouldn't use "to", but I find this sort of variation in prepositional choices interesting.

5 comments:

Ewelina Gonera said...

I wonder if it might have to do with regional differences as idiomatic preposition choices happen to differ from variation to variation of English e.g. in Britain it is common to say ''work in a bank'' whereas a natural choice for speakers of English in New Zealand would be ''work at a bank''.

Kendra said...

I found your post while Googling to make the same comparison you've made. For some reason "out of proportion to" just doesn't sound right. I think it has to do with proportions. The things in proportion logically should move together (= preposition with) and not separately ( = prepositions to/from). Or at least that's how I see it. :)

Ryan Denzer-King said...

An interesting thought, though I'm always wary of any supposed comingling of logic and language (cf. "get on a bus" vs. "get in a car").

Anonymous said...

useful thoughts. thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your insights. I saw "to" just now and wondered the same thing; a Google search brought me here :)