Using "with" with inanimate objects


I always hear this whenever I call my printer company. It doesn't sound correct to me.

Are you with the printer?

How do we correct this sentence?


Posted 2013-05-14T17:42:26.607

Reputation: 317

<comments removed> Please try to avoid answering these questions in comments. If you have an answer, please use the 'answer' function. Thanks. – Robert Cartaino – 2013-05-14T19:39:23.033

4@Robert Cartaino: My comment wasn't intended as "an answer", because at the time I couldn't explain why the sequence *"Is the printer with you?"* seemed more "correct" to me. All has now become clear with Matt's answer (it depends on whether the object is normally thought of as being in a fixed location), but my comment was simply intended to clarify what I felt was "normal/correct", in hopes someone else might provide a rationale for the standard usage. As such, I don't think it should have been deleted, but I don't want to argue the point ad nauseum. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-05-14T20:15:25.763

@FumbleFingers I'm actually curious if there's a BrE/AmE split on "with". "Is the printer with you?" seems wrong to me. Is that a quirk of my idiolect or representative of a larger difference, I wonder? – snailplane – 2013-05-14T20:31:04.053

@snailboat: Back when I started in (UK) tech support, I'd have asked *"Are you at the printer?"*, because those early line-printers where as big as fridges (like mohammed and the mountain, you went to them, they didn't come to you! :). In later years I might well have said *"Is the printer with you?"* because I'd often be speaking to an "on-site systems manager" who might have had the faulty printer brought in to Head Office from a Depot, for example. I doubt there's a UK/US split here - just individual preference for different prepositions. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2013-05-14T21:02:46.227

Perhaps you're right, but it does sound both incorrect and quite humorous :-) – snailplane – 2013-05-16T03:15:43.813



This is grammatical (it is an inversion of "Is the printer with you?") but it is not idiomatic English.

If the object is in a fixed location (such as a water cooler, or an industrial printer), then the question is normally phrased to ask where you are in relation to the object:

Are you at the printer?

I'm at the water cooler.

If the object is movable (such as a small printer, or a remote control), the idiomatic phrasing would be either to ask if you have the object:

Do you have the printer?

Do you have the remote control?

Or to ask if the object is at the same position as you:

Is the printer there with you?

Is the remote control there with you?


Posted 2013-05-14T17:42:26.607

Reputation: 11 728

2Would not "Do you have the [object]?" be used for something you can keep in your hands or in your pockets, or that you generally move near you? A cellphone and a laptop are examples of such objects. A printer is movable, but since it is plugged to the power outlet or to a computer, it is not moved so often. – kiamlaluno – 2013-05-14T18:44:08.597

1@kiamlaluno: More generally, "Do you have the [object]" is for things which are movable. For example, "Do you have the car?" would be common, even though a car would not normally fit in your pocket. Things that move rarely or never (such as industrial printers) normally follow the "Are you at the [object]" pattern. – Matt – 2013-05-14T21:49:18.377


"With the printer" means being with the printer right now. "Are you in [in the same place] with the printer?" Specifically, the company wants to know if they can give you steps to follow to work on the printer right away.
Another way this question is, "Are you at the printer?"


Posted 2013-05-14T17:42:26.607

Reputation: 428


I can be a regional choice that determines which preposition is used. You could use 'at', 'by', or 'with' and be correct. But if you are sitting on the printer making copies of your bum you really should say that you are 'on' the printer.


Posted 2013-05-14T17:42:26.607

Reputation: 522