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I rarely have any problems with the に and で particles, but I have been a bit confused since seeing the word 揺れる in a few different sentences.

As far as I know it is ok to say either:

旗が風に揺れている

or

旗が風で揺れている

Where you could of course replace 旗 with another word like 木 or 電線.

My problem is that I can't tell the difference between these sentences.

To me, at the moment, they both mean "~ is swaying in the wind". But there must be some difference between these sentences that I am not seeing.

Can anybody tell me the difference in meaning when it comes to the に or で particles with the word 揺れる?

Any help would be appreciated.

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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

風に揺れる sounds a bit poetic and literary to me. If I'm writing an essay, novel or poem, I'd write 風に揺れる. I think we usually say 風で揺れる in daily conversations.

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I agree with Chocolate's answer. The slight difference in nuance (for me, without strong basis) is this:

Aにゆれる
'swing against A'
'swinging on its own as a reaction to A'

Aでゆれる
'swing {by/due to} A'
'swinging, caused by A'

implies a slight spontaneity whereas implies a strong cause-result relation.

So when you say 風に揺れる, it implies that it is an inherent property of a flag to wave against the wind, and the role of wind is just the trigger. 風でゆれる means that the wind is solely responsible for the mechanism of waving.

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Ah I see, so 風に揺れる might sound like 風の中で揺れている? –  Choko Feb 4 '12 at 6:07
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@Chocolate I feel so. What do you think? And, I just edited my answer. I think the my new answer is better than my old one. –  sawa Feb 4 '12 at 6:12
    
Thank you both for your answers! I wish I could accept two answers at the same time, but this has helped me a lot - Thank you. –  Sour Lemon Feb 4 '12 at 6:21
    
@sawa-san, Yes I agree, I didn't notice that until I read your post. –  Choko Feb 4 '12 at 8:29
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If you ask why a flag is waving, then you use kazede (風で). But if you are describing a flag's movement, then you use kazeni yureteiru (風に揺れている).

'De' is used for why/method etc.

'Ni' is used for describing a situation/movement etc.

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I agree with Chocolate that に is slightly more literary. But I think that both に and で mean a cause in this context, and に is not necessarily ruled out even in the daily conversation.

I cannot pin down the exact difference between に and で, but I would like to point out that there are similar sentences where both に and で are grammatical and have almost the same meaning just like your examples:

  • 雨(に/で)濡れる
  • 病(に/で)倒れる
  • 仕事(に/で)疲れる
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ビルの前(に/で)車を止める。 –  istrasci Feb 4 '12 at 21:26
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@istrasci: Ok, both に and で are grammatical and have almost the same meaning in that sentence, too, but that sounds different from the current discussion although there might be some hidden connection. –  Tsuyoshi Ito Feb 5 '12 at 0:00
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Yes, you're absolutely right. I should have mentioned tat in my comment. So to clarify: the で in my above comment is a different one than the one in the original post (place of action, as opposed to cause of an action), and my example is one where に/で are interchangeable, although it's a bit different than the situation in the original post. –  istrasci Feb 5 '12 at 18:52
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