Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with a passion. Learn More

“Defeat to”

“Defeat to” seems to have gained preference over “defeat by” with media in the UK.

eg:- After Chelsea’s recent defeat to Liverpool Jose said...

Seems like they are confusing “defeat” and “loss”; or is this another evolution that we must suffer?

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Dyske omitted the line about my donning the grumpy pedant cap for this topic.


user106928 Nov-03-2015

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Dear Grumpy
1) It is not an evolution - it has been around for some time (perhaps 200 years according to Ngrams), if you would care to google "defeat to", although I could not sleuth out the actual quote.
2) If you choose to be grumpy about it, of course you will thole; if, however, you came to realise that evolution is a natural on-going process, then your tholing would lessen greatly.

jayles the unwoven Nov-03-2015

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Sorry, but "defeat to" falls hard upon my elderly ears, and thole it I will not.

user106928 Nov-04-2015

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Perhaps I should add that in other contexts the use of "defeat to" may well not sound wrong, but in the example I quoted I think it does.

user106928 Nov-04-2015

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@HS "defeat against" also crops up, although to my ear it sounds a bit odd; the point here is that just because we have not come across a particular collocation in our own milieu or experience - that does not make it "wrong" per se. In teaching English to "foreigners" we do emphasize normal collocations like "a telltale sign", "a dead giveaway", but that does not make "a telltale giveaway" wrong, just unusual.

What in fact is the difference between a collocation and a well-worn cliche, or indeed a treasured quote from Shakespeare or KJV?

"Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by." - is this "right" or "wrong" English? (from Gerald Manley Hopkins)

If one takes on board that English has always been changing, then (whilst I admit "defeat to" would not be a phrase I would use) - then the only question is whether its current usage makes it acceptable in business/academic/media contexts i.e. is it now "standard" English? Clearly yes indeed.

jayles the unwoven Nov-05-2015

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@HS if the sole criterion of "right" or "wrong" English were what falls soft or hard upon your ears, then what shall we do when you are gone?
Come, we need an more empirical measure.

jayles the unwoven Nov-05-2015

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I don't believe that at any point I claimed that the phrase was erroneous, merely that to me it sounds strange.
If or when I shuffle off this mortal coil I can only hope that another grumpy old pedant will spring up and continue to point out examples of strange and/or unusual phrases.
Given the lack of logic in the language I doubt that any kind of empirical measure exists.

user106928 Nov-06-2015

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Most of what Ngram is picking up from 200 years ago are false positives, like "ascribes / likens / attributes / owes his defeat to", or you find that defeat is followed by a comma or full stop. I thought I'd found something with this, from 1790:

"Conon, who commanded the Athenian forces, retires after his defeat to Evagoras, king of Cyprus."

But it turns out that Conon in fact took refuge with Evagoras. And then there was this, from 1709:

"Michael, a Natural Son of John, the King's Unkle, revoking in Asia, fled after his Defeat to the Sultan"

But it was followed by - ", who supply 'd him with Troops to invade the Empire," so it seems he fled to the Sultan.

So I would suggest that it is highly unlikely that "defeat to" was used this way two hundred years ago.

Fast forwarding to the 1980s and 1990s, though, we can find a couple of real examples at the British National Corpus, for example:

"Scotland's last hopes of pipping Canada for a quarter-final place ended with the 3-0 defeat to Sweden." (Independent - 1989)

"But Sunday's win should erase those ghosts, as well as make up for last year's defeat to France in the final in Lyon." (Today - 1992)

Although to be honest most of the other 34 instances of "defeat to" are false positives.

And what of HS's example? Well results are somewhat mixed: (Google p1 counts):

"after defeat to Liverpool" - 13,500
"after defeat by Liverpool" - 4,210
"Chelsea's defeat by Liverpool" - 23 300
"Chelsea's defeat to Liverpool" - 14,900

I'm afraid HS's exact quote only appears on this page, but we can find similar quotes with both "by" and "to":

"RAMIRES has revealed what Jose Mourinho said to Chelsea's stars after defeat to Liverpool - nothing!" (The Express)

"Chelsea Jose Mourinho quotes in full after defeat by Liverpool." (SkySports)

And what Ngram does show is that there has been a slight increase in "defeat to", combined with a drop in "defeat by" since around 2000, which might suggest something.

It then occurred to me to try "defeat to Australia", something that has no doubt been talked about since the nineteenth century. There are no examples in Google Books for the nineteenth century (3 for "by"). In fact there is nothing until 1977; the 70s and 80s have only one example each, and there still only four for the 90s. (For "by" - 1900-1949 - 5, 1950-1999 - 10). So twentieth century 15x "by", 6x "to".

This then is my candidate for first published use of "defeat to Australia":

"The Australian Board too may not like it if the Test record showed that in the 1977-78 series India handed out a crushing 4-0 or 5-0 defeat to Australia! " (Link 1977)

The picture changes with the first decade of this century, with 23 examples (13 for "by").

So, yes it looks as though the increase in use is fairly recent, but has it taken over? I'm not so sure.

On a different subject, I really miss having easy access to latest comments. It's possible to find them through the RSS link, but it doesn't seem that easy to log in.

Warsaw Will Nov-10-2015

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Dyske Nov-10-2015

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Once again I must compliment you on your exhaustive research.


user106928 Nov-10-2015

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It has to be “defeated by” since the defeated party is the object. If you want to use “to” then it needs to be “lost to” because the losing party is the subject. Someone has mentioned “defeat against” but here the word “defeat” is a noun and not the past participle of a verb such as “defeated” so we would have something like “Manchester United suffered a defeat against Liverpool” which I think is OK, as would be the use of “by”.

user112124 Aug-31-2023

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