To and Fro with To, For and From

useful for you and even useful to you Click To Tweet

The title of this article uses the phrase “to and fro” which means “back and forth.” Perhaps you find yourself going to and fro, trying to decide when to use to, for, or from?, –especially when it comes to using to and for with object pronouns (me, you, him, her, them, etc). Well, this article should be useful for you and even useful to you.

FOR indicates an effect, help, purpose, preference, or an amount
  • Effect/Experience  Vegetables are good for you. Speaking Chinese is hard for me.
  • Help    This blog is for you.  I took notes for you.
  • Purpose     These books are for my English class.
    iced tea spoon
    .           iced tea spoon

    This iced tea spoon is for stirring tea.

  • Preference   Are you for or against using nuclear energy?
  • Amount   I’ve been married for fifteen years.

In the first part of the sentence , “This article should be useful for you…”, “for” indicates a beneficial effect and a purpose.

What about, “useful to you”?

TO indicates transfer, destination, direction, comparison, and purpose (with simple verbs)
  • Transfer    She gave a toy to the child.  I will sell this painting to you for $300. (“for” in this example is an amount)
  • Destination    We are going to the airport.
  • Direction  Move the painting to the right.
  • Comparison   I prefer small dogs to large breeds.
  • Purpose  (Using “to” for purpose requires a verb in its simplest form. To  + verb is an infinitive.)  I want to ask you a question.  I’d like to tell you a story.

So, the second part of my sentence “useful to you” indicates a transfer.  This information is being given to  you.

Common combinations with to and for

teach to transfer I teach English to speakers of other languages.
teach to purpose I teach to help people understand and enjoy English.
*teach for help (on behalf of) I taught a class for Mrs. Decouto today. (I subbed* for her).
read to infinitive/direction I like to read to my  grandchildren. (With infinitives, “to” comes before the verb)
*read for help (on behalf of) I read the newspaper for grandpa since his eyes went bad. (as above, “to” also works here:  direction, toward g’pa*)
*read for amount I read for an hour. (Note: the past tense of read is spelled the same but pronounced “red”)
write to destination I am writing to my sister.
*writing for purpose (possibly help) I am writing a note for your teacher. (“to” also works in this sentence as destination, it’s going to your teacher)
sell to transfer I will sell my car to you.
*sell for help (on behalf of), amount We are selling raffle tickets for our dance troupe for just a dollar a piece.
care for others (take care of) benefit I provide care for my grandsons every Tuesday.
care for preference I don’t care for the taste of ginger. (I don’t like it)
prepare to purpose Prepare to be amazed! (Get mentally prepared)
*prepare for purpose I am preparing for my presentation. (Making physical preparations: preparing materials and possibly the environment)

Notice the difference between the last two examples.  “Prepare to” involves mental preparation, or planning.  There is also a sense of urgency.

“I’m preparing to blow this thing out of the water!”

.           Water gun fight

This means you are about to do something epic (really great), or that you are literally going to fire a weapon at something in the water.

Let’s look at another confusing pair:

It is scary for me., or It is scary to me?

“Scary for me” uses “for” as an effect (see the uses of FOR at the top of this article).  The experience is scary.  There is a sense of physical involvement with for here, similar to “prepare for” in the chart above. For is used with more physical experiences.  To tends to be cerebral.*  Just like “prepare to” had a sense of mental involvement, “Scary to me” conveys an opinion, or an analysis.

Now lets consider a question from one of my students:

Q: Can I say, “same to”?  A. Not usually.

We only use “same to” in the expression: “If it’s all the same to you…(followed by a suggestion or a statement of preference).”   For example, “If it’s all the same to you, I’d like to order pizza tonight.”  You are using “to” to say, “If you don’t have a strong preference…I think we should….or I would like to…”  You may be thinking, “but isn’t “for” supposed to be used with preferences?!”  Yes it is. (Thanks for noticing!) Using “to” makes the statement more objective, more rational; it refers to the listeners “thoughts” by using “to” and keeps emotion out.

Here is a little poem, called To and For  I wrote for you, to compare these concepts:shareasimage

Got it?  Check your understanding with this 10 question quiz.

For versus From

One of my students recently said he had stress for work. I explained that this would mean he was was suffering on behalf of his work.  What he meant to say was that he had stress from work.  Work was the source of his stress.

Lessons for Learning

Lessons for Teaching

Clicking on the link above will take you to the teaching material for the lesson above.

 That’s it FOR now!  Let me hear FROM you!


One thought on “To and Fro with To, For and From

  1. Do your ears hang low do they wobble ‘to and fro’?
    Can you tie ’em in a knot can you tie ’em in a bow?
    Can you throw ’em o’re your shoulder like a Continental solder?
    Do your ears hang low?

    This is a song taught to you and your siblings by you mother.

Comments are closed.