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I noticed in reports of the recent GOP debate a number of instances where the phrase “Person A debated Person B.” was used rather than “Person A debated with Person B.”
Is this common in USA?
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When you debate with someone, you are most likely in public and people are wondering what all the fuss is about.
When you debate someone, you are on a stage in a formal setting.
There's a bit of "will debate you/him/her/them" on the Internet, mostly American, but not only. This is from British comic commentator and columnist, Mark Steel:
'To sum up, Cameron is saying to Miliband "I will debate you anywhere, anytime, as long as no one can see or hear the debate." '
This was no doubt after Ed Milliband, then British leader of the opposition had said (of David Cameron):
“The British public deserve this debate. I will debate him, any time, any place, anywhere. He should stop ducking and weaving and he should name the date.”
Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party was also in on the act:
"I will debate him anytime, anywhere, on any number of occasions"
And this is from Australia:
"If Monckton is indeed a windbag (as you presume) the easiest way to make him go away is to debate him"
Just discovered this topic. The Google books ngrams are certainly useful, but in my experience as an American I think debating a person is pretty common in non-book usage--in conversation and in news media whether print, TV, or Internet.
Just one example, from a 2014 LiveScience.com report: "Watch Bill Nye the Science Guy Debate Creationist Tonight" (http://www.livescience.com/43102-bill-nye-creationist-debate-watch.html). In fact, if you Google "will debate creationist" you find many instances of this usage (all seeming to involve Bill Nye).
But even in the US 'with' is more common, and the with-less version is relatively recent:
jayles the unwoven
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