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.
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!”
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.
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
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!