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To and for

What’s the difference between to and for? How do we differentiate between these two words?

  • This present is for you or to you?
  • I cleaned the house to you or for you? 

Distinguishing between these two words can be tricky, and might seem overcomplicated, but nevertheless, there are rules that determine which word we must use.

Below, we will examine the rules that determine which preposition, to or for is correct.

For: a person’s purpose when using nouns

We use ‘for’ to talk about someone’s purpose, but only when the thing is a noun. It can’t be anything else but a noun

  • This room will be used for meetings.
  • I went to see my friend for a coffee.
  • My mobile is used for calls and texts.
  • I had to see my professor for an exam review.

For: used before a gerund (verb + ing) for expressing the purpose of a thing, or more specifically, its use 

  • My computer is for doing work on.
  • That camera is for taking pictures of us while we’re on vacation.
  • Our meal is for consuming, so what are we waiting for!?
  • Measuring tape is for measuring, not for misusing.
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To: for expressing the purpose of an entity (person, animal, company etc.)

For example, the entity is the subject, (not a thing) we must use ‘to’ + the infinitive, and NOT ‘for’.

  • She needs the computer to do work on.
  • James used the camera to take pictures of us while we were on vacation.
  • They need to consume a meal now!
  • I‘m using the measuring tape to measure, not to misuse.

Notice how the subject in blue is a person, not a thing? Therefore, we must use ‘to + infinitive’, and NOT ‘for’.

For: causes and effect

We use for + gerund (verb + –ing) after a description of a positive or negative reaction, to explain the behaviour that caused it. Even though the subject could be an entity (person, animal, company etc., (not a thing), we still use ‘for’, and NOT ‘to’. 

Put simply, we use for + gerund to express cause and effect.

  • I’m really angry at you for stealing my lunch money!
  • I was told to leave them alone for upsetting them, apparently.
  • He was sent to the principal’s office for disturbing the class.
  • We’re very grateful to you for saving the day.

It would thus be INCORRECT to say the following: 

  • I’m furious at you to stealing my lunch money! INCORRECT
  • I was told to leave them alone to upsetting them, apparently. INCORRECT
  • He was sent to the principal’s office to disturbing the class. INCORRECT
  • We’re very grateful to you to saving the day. INCORRECT

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