When talking about buying things and making payments for them etc... what context would you use "in" vs"by" when referring to the payment. For example...

She paid by credit card. (felicitous)
She paid in credit card.  (not)

She paid by mail. (felicitous)
She paid in mail.    (not)

She paid by check.    (felicitous)
She paid in check.     (not)

She paid by cash.    (not?)
She paid in cash.    (felicitous)

She paid by dollars.    (not)
She paid in dollars.  (felicitous)

She paid by goats.  (not)
She paid in goats.  (felicitous)

My sense is that 'by' is used when talking about a method of transmitting value ie: credit card, mail, check where as 'in' is used when talking about the thing of value you are giving as payment ie: cash, dollars, coins, stock.

Is there any relevant literature that talks about this? or is this just idiomatic?

  • 1
    Hi Pete. This is a question about English usage rather than about the scientific study of human language. Stack Exchange has two sites for that: English Language & Usage and English Language Learners. We'll try to get your question moved to the right site for you. Jan 5 '14 at 1:41
  • I assure you this is a scientific question. English is my first language. I'm interested in any literature in linguistics that might relate to this observation.
    – Pete
    Jan 5 '14 at 2:33
  • 1
    I'm sorry but I don't see anything linguisticky here. There's lots of similar usage questions on English Language & Usage tagged with word-choice and prepositions. But it looks like nobody has asked this so I'm sure they'll welcome it. Jan 5 '14 at 2:45
  • I agree the question has more to do with general English usage than with linguistics. @Pete: when Indo-European languages started losing declensions and cases, prepositions expanded their role to compensate, so you can consider this "by" as an "instrumental mode" marker (at least in Sanskrit I know instrumental must be used for using the credit card as a tool to transfer wealth, not so sure whether to use accusative, ablative or dative when giving out the physical card as payment). Check out the history of "of" for more...
    – Joe Pineda
    Jan 5 '14 at 11:12