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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’ll examine the rules that determine which preposition, for or to is correct.

(1) For: a person’s purpose. 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.
(2) For: used before a gerund (verb + ing) to express 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.
(3) To: when we want to express the purpose of a person, ie, the person 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’.

(4) For: causes of reaction. 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 a person, we still use ‘for’, and NOT ‘to’. 
  • 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.
(5) 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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