Difference between To and For

Key Difference: To is primarily used for destination, time, distance, comparison, giving (verb), and motive or reason with a verb. For is primarily used for benefits, period of time, schedule, opinion, task, motive or reason with noun, or describing a function. ‘TO’ is always with a verb, and ‘FOR’ is always with a noun.

To‘To’ and ‘for’ are two very different words in the English language that are very commonly used. In fact, it will be hard to some across a small paragraph that does not end up using these terms not only once but multiple times. Though it might be easy to understand those terms when you come across them in reading, it might be a little difficult to see where to actually use them.

The problem is that both ‘to’ and ‘for’ are very commonly used words, and they are very similar. In fact, there are many instances where the two can be used in the same sentences, however, the meaning of the sentence does change subtly, which many people might have trouble with. So, let us look at the two terms and which are the correct ways of using them, and where.

Both the terms are primarily used as prepositions, which means that they are used to link two different words or things together. They show a relationship between two different things. For example: “Mary went to the market.” This indicates that Mary went to the market. The sentence connects Mary and the market. Similarly, “The cake is for John,” indicates that the cake is for John, i.e. a relationship between John and the cake. However, that still leaves the question of when to use which one.

It should be noted that there is particular situations where ‘to’ and ‘for’ are used. For example, ‘to’ is used to describe a state of being. It is more literal in its usage. It describes direct actions, such as to give, to go, to be, whereas, ‘for’ describes a state of thinking. It is more abstract, and more about thought, rather than actually being, such as for life, for milk.

ForLet’s consider an example, “I went to the market to get bread” or “I went to the market for bread,” the meaning of the two sentences is the same, I went to the market and I got bread. However, there is a slight difference in the manner that ‘to’ and ‘for’ are used. ‘To’ is more direct and descriptive. It describes a direct function, a verb, “I went to get bread.” ‘For’, on the other hand, is a more roundabout way of saying the same thing. It does not describe a direct function; its more passive, “I went for bread.” Similarly, the first part of the sentence also uses ‘to’ for the same reason, “I went to the market.” It is a direct action.

Keeping this in mind, it should be noted that ‘to’ is primarily used for destination, time, distance, comparison, giving (verb), and motive or reason with a verb. Whereas ‘for’ is primarily used for benefits, period of time, schedule, opinion, task, motive or reason with noun, or describing a function.

This list of things to use ‘to’ and ‘for’ can get quite confusing, and difficult to remember. So, to simply things, there is a rule of thumb that can be used in most situations – ‘TO’ is always with a verb, and ‘FOR’ is always with a noun. Of course there are exceptions to the rule and it doesn’t apply in most instances, but for majority of general usage, this rule is true.

Comparison between To and For:

 

To

For

Definition (Oxford Dictionaries)

  • Expressing motion in the direction of (a particular location)
  • Approaching or reaching (a particular condition)
  • Identifying the person or thing affected by or receiving something.
  • Identifying a particular relationship between one person and another.
  • Indicating that two things are attached or linked.
  • Concerning or likely to concern (something)
  • Used to introduce the second element in a comparison.
  • Expressing purpose or intention.
  • Expressing an outcome or result.
  • In support of or in favour of (a person or policy)
  • Affecting, with regard to, or in respect of.
  • On behalf of or to the benefit of.
  • Having (the thing mentioned) as a purpose or function.
  • Having (the thing mentioned) as a reason or cause.
  • Having (the place mentioned) as a destination.
  • Representing (the thing mentioned)
  • In place of or in exchange for.
  • In relation to the expected norm of.
  • Indicating the length of (a period of time)
  • Indicating the extent of (a distance)
  • Indicating an occasion in a series.
  • Because; since.

Description

Used to describe a state of being. It is more literal in its usage. It describes direct actions, such as to give, to go, to be,

Does not describe a direct function; its more passive

Function

To describe a connection between two things or objects

To describe a connection between two things or objects

Type

Preposition

Infinitive Marker

Adverb

Preposition

Conjunction

Uses

Primarily used for destination, time, distance, comparison, giving (verb), and motive or reason with a verb.

Primarily used for benefits, period of time, schedule, opinion, task, motive or reason with noun, or describing a function.

Primarily used with

Verb

Noun

Example

Mark is going to London. (Destination)

“It’s time to party. (Time)

It is 10 miles to the store. (Distance)

I prefer cake to pie. (Comparison)

I gave my pen to Joan. (Giving)

I came here to study. (Motive or reason)

 

Yogurt is good for you. (Benefits)

I’ve lived here for a year. (Period of Time)

I have an appointment for 2 pm. (Schedule)

I am all for freedom of speech. (Opinion)

Can you do that for me? (Task)

Let’s meet for dinner. (Motive or reason with noun)

A book is for reading. (Function).

Reference: Oxford Dictionaries (To, For), Espresso English, StackExchange,
English Lessons with Adam, English Forums
Image Courtesy: wikimedia.org, timeforkids.com.au

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