Some time ago, I came across the phrase ‘write in pen’. Sounded a little strange to me, but not being a native I thought it’s something people somewhere use. Recently, it caught my attention again, and this time I looked into it. I became curious, whether they mean something different, or it is just a figure of speech.
As in many cases, it comes down to prepositions. What a nightmare this language can be for learners! ‘Write in pen.’ - a transitive verb used with a preposition; or a phrasal verb with a rather different meaning. Isn’t it simple? The latter does not make much sense, the former we will see about a bit later.
To explain the meaning and show in use, I made an illustration about the phrasal verb. Here's what I have found about the transitive verb, with different prepositions:
When we want to indicate the instrument or tool that is used to carry out an action, we barely use anything else than ‘with’ as a preposition.
'Joseline stirred the crowd with her voice.'
'Tobias punctured the leather with an awl.'
The preposition ‘in’ refers to the material or method used to to do something.
'The audience bursted out in a standing ovation.' (standing ovation as method)
'The picture was drawn in pencil.' (pencil as material, not as a tool)
The sentence ‘I wrote a novel in pen.’ assumes that pen is synonymous with ink, the material that is filled into the pen.
Often picturing new concepts, I am sure I would remember those if I saw them before. These are correct sentences, although, with the indefinite article the meaning becomes weird.
'Dr.Manette wrote his memoirs in a pen.' (Pen meaning a small, confined space, which in this case might be true.)
'Teresa writes in a pencil.' (Either she is very small, or it is a really big pencil.)
By normally tells who does (did or will do) the action.
'The traffic jam was caused by intoxicated hooligans.'
'The couch was remodelled by their excited new dog.'
'The announcement was written by pen.' (Smartpen, perhaps Google already has it.)
This text was typed with a keyboard, in Cambria fonts, in a room; by the way.
Can you reach a basic fluency in English easier than in Spanish? I would say yes.
Does it get very confusing after? Undoubtedly.
There is always something to learn, and so I have while putting this together.
Now it’s time to share, and burn if I have to.
But I can’t wait for the comments of my colleagues and fellow teachers.
Allow me to pick your brains on the subject this way.