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Q&A

What's the difference between "in doing so" and "by doing so"?

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As the title mentioned, what's the difference between these two terms? The question has troubled me for some time. Hope somebody can answer me. Thanks!

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maybe have a look at https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-%E2%80%9Cin-doing-so%E2%... (1 comment)

2 answers

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It depends on the context, but generally "in doing so" refers to something that happens along with or as part of the action, and "by doing so" refers to a result of the action. In many cases either one works. Here are a couple of cases where one is preferable to the other:

  • Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and in doing so sank several American ships."

It's part of the same action, so you wouldn't use "by doing so."

  • Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and by doing so made bombing attacks on Japan inevitable.

It's a later consequence, so you wouldn't use "in doing so." This is less clear than the first example, though.

  • Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and in/by doing so entered war with the US.

In this case you can view starting war either as an aspect or a consequence of the attack, so I think either one is appropriate.

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Here are some results from Google:

Zeel's answer on StackExchange

Using the word "in" means that the action takes place at the same time as something. However "by" is used to denote the manner or reason something was done.

So "in doing so" actually means "while doing so", but "by doing so" means "because I did so".

So consider:

I ran out the door, in doing so I slipped on the ice outside.

This means that while I was in the process of running out the door, I slipped.

I ran out the door, by doing so I slipped on the ice outside.

This means that I slipped as a direct result of running out the door - which isn't entirely true. If I had noticed the ice, worn different shoes, or stepped carefully I could have avoided slipping while still "running out the door". The direct cause of my slipping was negligence, not the action described in the sentence.

FumbleFingers's answer

I suspect many native speakers wouldn't really distinguish in/by [doing so/so doing]1, but to the extent that there is any tendency to use them differently...

I hastily cleared up after the party guests had left, but in doing so I broke an expensive vase

...most people probably wouldn't use by doing so. That's because the in version often simply means while, at the same time, whereas the by version normally implies as a direct, inherent, and/or intended consequence.


1 As can be inferred from the lack of a clear consensus in responses to (presumably, a different) nima's question on this dictionary forum last year.

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Some people here hold the view that the only legitimate questions are ones for which no answers can p... (1 comment)
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