So far we have concentrated upon using listening to help to overcome some of the difficulties of learning English. This week we are going to explore those difficulties in a bit more detail.

As we discussed in the first week, the strange way that English formed left us with some unusual features of the language that can make it challenging for learners. One of these is knowing when to use ‘to’ and when to use ‘for’.

‘To’ and ‘for’ are easily confused. One of the reasons for this is that there are so many rules that whilst they are learning the basics, students will continue to hear ‘to’ and ‘for’ being used in more advanced ways, and this can be very confusing. Therefore, this week we will revise the basics of how to use ‘to’.

Right. Get ready…

  1. It expresses forward direction: she is walking to the shops; yesterday, I went to the beach; he gave some money to charity.

(Tip: students often get confused about the idea of ‘forward direction’ in the past. It helps to remember that just because an action is finished doesn’t mean it wasn’t moving forwards at the time.)

  1. It expresses purpose (verb + to + verb): she is walking (to the shops) to buy some chocolate. We went to swim at the beach.

(Tip: this can be confusing when, as in the first example, there is forward verb (walking) and a purpose verb used in the same sentence. This can mean that the verb + to + verb construction becomes separated by a verb phrase.)

  1. It shows a length of time: I work from nine a.m. to six p.m; I am going to be on holiday from the beginning of April to the end of March.

(Tip: students sometimes get this wrong because grammar books like to teach the use of ‘until’ (I work from nine a.m. until six p.m.). Whilst this is more formal English, both are widely used, and ‘to’ is more common in natural speech.)

  1. It indicates a limit: the cup was full to the top; after the rain, the river was full to the top.


So, these basic uses of ‘to’ are worth learning. Some students like to learn one example of each, and keep those handy to do a quick mental check when not sure which one to use.

There are a couple of other golden rules that can also make life easier

It is never, never, never, never ‘to + ing’.

(Well, you will hear ‘to + ing’ in some extremely weird and rare examples where the ‘to’ is dependent – we’ll get on to that later, so don’t shout at me if you see them, FORGET ABOUT THAT for now!!)

And secondly, it is never, never, never, never, never, never, never ‘for + to’

(Well, except when ‘for’ is being used adverbally, but that’s a lesson for another day, so IGNORE THAT!!)

For to do something is the most common mistake in English made by speakers of Italian and Spanish, so any time you catch yourself doing it, stop, go back, and do say it again properly.

Next week, we’ll tackle the basics of ‘for’! Have fun!!