lost their lives 'to' warfare

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mikexlin2

New Member
China, Chinese
I am a native Chinese speaker. The following usage of the preposition word "to" makes me perplexed.

"At least twenty million people lost their lives to warfare and its attendant horrors of famine and pestilence. "

The "to" appears to mean the cause of something. I've looked up several dictionaries and none of them have a definition of this usage. Could someone help me understand this?


Greatly appreciated!
 
  • ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    Welcome to the forum, Mike:)
    The closest definition I can find for that particular meaning is in Merriam-Webster ~ definition 7b:
    used as a function word to indicate agency <falls to his opponent's blows>
    So yes, you're right, it does mean 'cause of':
    warfare causes 20,000,000 to lose their lives
    his opponent's blows cause him to fall

    It's not a terribly common usage of to, which is reflected in how far down the list of senses it comes in M-W's dictionary.
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    ...
    "At least twenty million people lost their lives to warfare and its attendant horrors of famine and pestilence. "
    ...
    I'm sorry to argue with ewie, but as a matter of fact "to lose to" is quite common. This is because the transitive version of "to lose" can also have an indirect object introduced by the preposition "to".

    Example

    Heavyweight champion George Foreman lost to the challenger Muhammad Ali in the eighth round.

    Note that you can make this closer to the structure of your sentence as follows:

    Heavyweight champion George Foreman lost the fight to the challenger Muhammad Ali in the eighth round.
     
    Last edited:

    mikexlin2

    New Member
    China, Chinese
    Hey Biffo,

    In your examples, the "to lose to" has an object. But in my sentence, we don't lose our lives to the object of warfare, but the warfare causes us to lose lives. The warfare shouldn't be an object in this case. Am I right?
     

    Biffo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    Hey Biffo,

    In your examples, the "to lose to" has an object. But in my sentence, we don't lose our lives to the object of warfare, but the warfare causes us to lose lives. The warfare shouldn't be an object in this case. Am I right?
    ...people lost their lives to warfare...

    people - subject
    lost - verb (transitive)
    their lives - direct object
    to warfare - indirect object
     

    mikexlin2

    New Member
    China, Chinese
    Hey Forero, could you explain to me the difference between the cause and agency in regard to the discussion, "to" usage?
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Hey Forero, could you explain to me the difference between the cause and agency in regard to the discussion, "to" usage?
    Warfare, etc., took the people's lives, rather than just causing them to be lost.

    The to phrase tells us where the people's lives went, sort of like a destination. A cause would be more like an origin, where the loss of life came from.

    The difference is moot really, but to me "He lost his life to the surgeon" means the surgeon killed him, not just that the surgeon did something that caused him to die.

    To has lots of meanings, but "because of" is probably not one of them. I suspect your dictionary mentions agency in its entry for to, but if not, I would be surprised if it didn't mention destination.
     
    The to phrase tells us where the people's lives went, sort of like a destination. A cause would be more like an origin, where the loss of life came from.
    I agree with Forero. A destination, goal, end, or whatever you want to believe that has caused the result.

    "I was lost in the Heaven as a child, and my name and achievements will be lost to this world."
     
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