“Familiarize with” and “Habituate to”

By Maeve Maddox

A reader wonders about the usage in the following invitation to a website:

Come in, familiarize yourself to our site, ask questions and read our stories.

She asks, “Shouldn’t that be ‘familiarize yourself with our site’?”

Yes, the idiom is “familiarize with.”

Since the 1880s at least, the usual preposition to follow familiarize has been with, not to. Here are recent examples of contemporary usage:

Employees should take time to familiarize themselves with these policies as a violation of the policies may result in disciplinary action, up to and including removal.

All students are expected to familiarize themselves with the following information,
available on the York University Senate Academic Standards.

If you are a new Intern, you must spend some time at the office (any of the offices will do) to familiarize yourself with the program before going out to the field on a regular basis.

I familiarized myself with weather forecasts, wind patterns, and how to avoid being conned out of our money by smugglers.

It’s not surprising to find prepositional oddities in hurried comments and on amateur blogs, but it is jarring to find them on academic sites and in printed educational materials:

Read the objectives below to familiarize yourself to the material. —Assignment directions on University of Nebraska Medical Center site.

Young children with visual impairments can learn techniques to familiarize themselves to rooms in their homes and to their classrooms. —Text published by American Foundation for the Blind.

Occupants can familiarize themselves to drill procedures, location of fire exits, and the sound of the fire alarm. —University of New Hampshire fire drill instructions.

It is possible that the expression “habituate to,” which has a similar meaning, has something to do with the prepositional mix-up.

habituate verb: to fix in a habit; to accustom to, familiarize with. Used with to.

Here are examples of the correct use of to with habituate:

By doing this kind of exercise regularly, you habituate yourself to staying in that state of mind for longer and longer periods and to writing while in it.

After a while you cease to see pictures on your wall. Your vision becomes habituated to them.

What strategies does Meursault employ to habituate himself to life in prison while he awaits trial?

Children become habituated to the screen’s easy gratifications.

Note: In American usage, habituate is also used as a transitive verb to mean “to resort to habitually, to frequent.” For example, “While not playing the horn, he writes software, habituates coffee shops and tries to incite political, economic and religious discussions.”

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