Friday, 9 August 2013

Filled with vs full of

Apologies for the scarcity of posts; I've been moving house and we've been internetless and busy. Should be back to normal soon. In the meantime, have a brief observation on the subtle difference in meaning different syntactic structures can imply. 

Reece Shearsmith tweeted this photograph yesterday:

'Please do not use: machine filled with BEES'
Someone commented beneath it that using filled with rather than full of makes it sound 'almost like somebody has done it deliberately'. Full is an adjective, related to the verb fill. Filled is the past or passive participle of the same verb. As is clear from this photo, the adjective and participle can often be used interchangeably, and give basically the same meaning. Sometimes, there isn't an adjective and we just use the participle for everything: consider She is qualified to teach the course. Qualified is just like filled, and there's no corresponding adjective to full to use instead.

If we have two words that are basically the same, you'll often find a subtle distinction in use, which is why we have the sense that filled with has more 'agency' (i.e. someone did it) than full of (which is just a state of affairs). Because filled can be the passive participle, we perhaps interpret this as meaning that the machine (has been) filled with BEES (by someone).

Anyhow, don't use the machine. It's got BEES in it.

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