Last week we looked at the basics of when to use ‘to’. If you haven’t read it yet, go back and remind yourself, because next week we will be moving on to the advanced uses.

This week we are tackling the ying to the ‘to’s yang. The nemesis of students everywhere – although fascinating from a linguistic perspective – ‘for’.

  1. It expresses benefit of a person or thing. He opened the door for me; he turned on the television for her; I bought a new cartridge for the printer; I go work for my own enjoyment.

(Tip: Students sometimes struggle with this because the ‘thing’ that the ‘for’ is benefitting can be quite abstract, or the ‘person’ is not immediately obvious. An example is: ‘I do it for love’ – in this case, multiple people and things may be benefitting – myself, my partner, the people around me, my work, etc. So the thing to focus on here is the general idea of benefit.)

  1. It expresses reason (because of). He eats salad for his health, and drinks wine for his heart; he studies hard for his future job.

(Tip: this is almost always used to explain how something benefits something else, and generally means why something that somebody does or has is being done. Therefore, it is often heard in answer to a question, and the answer attempts to explain the desired outcome. For example: why does he go running every day? He goes running for his health.)

  1. It shows the duration of time. He studies for three hours a night; she goes on holiday for one month every summer.

(Tip: note that the duration of time has no ending. ‘For’ describes the overall length of time that the activity takes to happen.)

  1. It Indicates a distance. He runs for six miles every day; we drove for twenty miles before we found a shop.

(Tip: this ‘for’ is nearly always left out by native speakers, so you will not hear it being spoken very often. Also, it is only used as a distance of movement, and that movement is continuous. So you would not say ‘the mountain is for 9000 meters high’, but you could say ‘we climbed a 9000 meter mountain last week. We were so tired that we could only climb for 100 meters at a time, and then we had to stop and rest.)

So, that’s the basics of ‘for’.

I personally think that ‘for’ is a little easier than ‘to’, for reasons that we will discuss next week. However, it can be a challenge to learn because:

  1. a) the examples of how it is used are quite vague
  2. b) there are many exemptions and rules, such as ‘distance’ being continuous.

Native speakers will be unable to help you if you are using ‘for’ incorrectly, but it’s one of those things that will sound particularly wrong to them. Therefore, it is a crucial part of the language to study if you wish to achieve fluency. However, the challenge comes in getting it exactly right. This is because the exemptions are so specific to the exact situation and scenario that to write them all down would be impossible, and are therefore difficult to teach and difficult to study. Some are things that even very experienced teachers often do not realise exist.

What this means is that when you are practicing ‘for’ it is very important to keep noticing patterns in the examples that you are being given, as this will help you start to learn where ‘for’ is appropriate to use.

Now that we’ve done both ‘to’ and ‘for’ you can get practicing. Here are some useful exercise links:

Preposition examples and exercises

The British Council to + infinitive page

The British Council verbs and prepositions page

To and for exercise bank

Next week: advanced ‘to’ and ‘for’!! Enjoy!