TO versus FOR. Which is correct?

Level A2 to B1 (the uses of ‘to’ and ‘for’ in English)

Written and compiled by Benedicte Gravrand, English trainer at The Language House

 

To and for are two innocent-looking words, but for French speakers, they are not so simple. They can be quite confusing. When do you use to and when do you use for in a sentence?

In French you say: Je rentre à la maison pour manger.

In English, you say : I’m going home to eat.

NOT:  I’m going home for to eat. WRONG

Here pour becomes to

 

In French you say: Je rentre à la maison pour dîner.

In English, you say : I’m going home for dinner.

 

When you say in French: Merci pour votre aide.

In English, you say: Thank you for your help.

Here pour becomes for.

 

And when you say in French: Je vais à la plage / au marché.

In English, you say: I am going to the beach / to the market.

Here, à and au become to.

 

Here is the most important rule about to and for

 

When it comes to talking about reason or purpose (what you want to do or achieve), you use to when the reason is a verb, and you use for when the reason is a noun.

 

  1. Use to when the reason or purpose is a verb.

I am writing to thank you for your generous gift.

To call security, just press this button here.

I gave Spanish lessons in order to earn some extra money.

 

  1. Use for when the reason or purpose is a noun.

We use the basement for storage.

Let’s go out for a drink.

I’m working for the money.

 

 

 Other uses of to and for

 

To and for, when used as a preposition, have many different jobs.

Below is a list of some of these jobs, but please note, as in all rules, there are always exceptions. There is an exercise at the bottom of this article for you to practise.

  1. Which is correct?
  • We drove to Newport
  • We drove for Newport

Use to when you talk about going somewhere or a direction

We drove to Newport.

She’s invited me to her wedding.

She looked to the left and then to the right before crossing the road.

 

  1. Which is correct?
  • This paper is for writing, this paper is for painting
  • This paper is to writing, this paper is to painting

Use for when you talk about function (followed by gerund (verb-ing))

This paper is for writing, this paper is for painting

The fridge is for keeping food cold.

 

  1. Which is correct?
  • Thank you to the new shoes!
  • Thank you for the new shoes!

Use for when expressing thanks (followed by a noun or a gerund)

Thank you for the new shoes!

Thank you for teaching me to play the guitar.

Thank you for letting me do this.

 

  1. Which is correct?
  • She was married to an American lawyer.
  • She was married for an American lawyer.

Use to when you talk about relationship or influence

She was married to an American lawyer.

They were very kind to my mother when she was ill.

They are important to the company.

 

  1. Which is correct?
  • I’ve been waiting to 20 minutes.
  • I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes.

Use for to talk about a length of time or a distance

I’ve been waiting for 20 minutes.

They must have walked for at least three kilometres.

I have worked here for a very long time.

 

  1. Which is correct?
  • Everyone says they are to equal opportunities.
  • Everyone says they are for equal opportunities.

Use for when you talk about who or what you support or prefer

Everyone says they are for equal opportunities.

Are you for or against the Green party?

I am all for it.

 

Other uses of to and for

 

  1. Forming an infinitive – usually as a complement (not the main verb)

I hope to see you next week.

The system is easy to understand.

I didn’t know what to say.

 

  1. Until

The shop stays open from 7 am to 9 pm.

 

  1. Time

It’s a quarter to two.

 

12.  Comparing

I prefer tea to coffee.

13. Saying how much money is paid

I sold my car for £1,000.

 

And now for something a little bit more complicated…

 

  • What did they do to you?
  • What did they do for you?

 

What is the difference?

 

  1. to is used for saying who is given or shown or told something. Think of it as a direction – what it is directed at.  

What did they do to you? (This can be a bit negative: did they do something bad to you?)

Prizes were presented to the winners. (The prizes were directed at, or given, to the winners.)

I have already explained to everyone what the problem is.

 

  1. for is used for saying who or what receives something. Think of it as a recipient or a beneficiary.

What did they do for you? (What did you receive from them?)

I’ve brought a cup of tea for you. (You are the beneficiary.)

Betty will take care of things for us while we’re away.

I’m bringing some cookies for my colleagues.

 

 (Most examples from macmillandictionary.com)

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Exercise

Now complete the dialogue with to or for:

 

Audrey: I want to go New York.

Betty: What ? When?

A: I want listen to some live music in a jazz club.

B: I thought you preferred rock music jazz.

A: I want go with Vince. He’s invited me a concert.

B: Isn’t he related you?

A: Yes, he is a distant cousin. He has been very nice me since I lost my job.

B: What did he do you?

A: He got a new computer me.

B: He gave a computer you? Wow, that was really nice of him! How will you go .. New York?

A: I will fly JFK.

B: Where will you stay?

A: Diana has invited me stay with her.

B: Will you bring something her?

A: She won’t be there, but I will take care of her cats her.

B: Is her apartment in New York?

A: No, I’ll have to travel about half an hour get the apartment.

B: Have you bought a ticket the concert?

A: I’ll buy one on the internet less money than in New York.

B: Have you booked your flight?

A: No, but I will do it now. There’s one at twenty five tomorrow.

 

 

Check your answers:

 

Audrey: I want to go to New York.

Betty: What for? When?

A: I want to listen to some live music in a jazz club.

B: I thought you preferred rock music to jazz.

A: I want to go with Vince. He’s invited me to a concert.

B: Isn’t he related to you?

A: Yes, he is a distant cousin. He has been very nice to me since I lost my job.

B: What did he do for you?

A: He got a new computer for me.

B: He gave a computer to you? Wow, that was really nice of him! How will you go to New York?

A: I will fly to JFK.

B: Where will you stay?

A: Diana has invited me to stay with her.

B: Will you bring something for her?

A: She won’t be there, but I will take care of her cats for her.

B: Is her apartment in New York?

A: No, I’ll have to travel for about half an hour to get to the apartment.

B: Have you bought a ticket for the concert?

A: I’ll buy one on the internet for less money than in New York.

B: Have you booked your flight?

A: No, but I will do it now. There’s one at twenty to five tomorrow.

 

Donny Hathaway – A Song For You (with lyrics)

 

 

 

Garry Littman

Garry Littman

Garry Littman est le fondateur de The Language House à Genève. The Language House propose des coachings d'anglais à Genève pour les particuliers et les entreprises, ainsi que des cours intensifs d'anglais dans les pays anglophones. Garry a été journaliste en Australie et en Asie, il a travaillé pour World Radio Switzerland.

Une réponse à “TO versus FOR. Which is correct?

  1. Merci “is tricky”.
    Vous écrivez que l’on écrit:
    “Merci pour votre aide.”
    Mais Merci de votre aide est aussi admis et est considéré par certains (dont je fais partie) comme plus élégant.
    Larousse indique que
    “Merci de, merci pour (+ nom) : merci de votre visite, merci pour votre cadeau. (Le nom désignant ce qui fait l’objet du remerciement est introduit par de ou par pour.)
    Merci de (+ infinitif) : merci d’être venu. (L’infinitif est toujours introduit par de.)”
    Le français est compliqué!

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