Friday, July 24, 2009

'Populated With' or 'Populated By'?

A colleague just asked me this and, after giving my standard long-winded speech about how such things are usually a matter of idiom (meaning: your best guess is as valid as anybody's), I looked it up.

Webster's New World online gives usage examples containing both.

"(populated) with: Producing the sort of analyzes we have discussed needs a well-designed database populated with the right data."

"(populated) by: It is certainly a beautiful place, populated by friendly folks."

There's a subtle difference there that I can't quite articulate. Too bad Webster's didn't bother trying to articulate it either.

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Faldone said...

Just a WAG, but I'd say "populated with" implies that the population was put there and "populated by" means it got there all on its own.

June Casagrande said...

Hey, you're on to something! "Populated with" seems to have a transitive quality -- as if there's an unseen doer. "Populated by" seems to have an organic quality.

Velly intelesting ...

Ya Chun said...

my first reaction, before reading the first comment, was that it has something to do with choice.

The pristine habitat was populated by birds (they choose to be there, in their ecological niche)

'with' would imply a reintroduction to me (esp w/o the pristine)

June Casagrande said...

Sounds good to me. : )

kitty said...

I would use "populated by" in the most literal sense ( to me) of "populate" , the dwelling at a particular place of a group of living creatures. I would use " populated with" only in figurative speech.
In all modesty, not being a native speaker.


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