Have ever found yourself in doubt about how to use to and for in English? I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone, my friend! Prepositions like these can be difficult to use correctly. In this post, we will tackle one of the most common questions when it comes to prepositions in English: to versus for. There are also tons of examples and exercises with to and for so you can check your knowledge about this topic at the end of this post! Let’s finally understand the differences between to and for, shall we?
How to use English prepositions
When learning a language, you will often read about nouns, verbs, adjectives, and so on. These are what we call parts of speech. We have eight parts of speech in the English language: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction, and interjection. Unless you are a grammar nerd, it is okay to be confused about them. Let’s go ahead and explore one of those parts of speech — the preposition.
Prepositions are usually followed by a noun or a pronoun. They demonstrate the relationship between a noun or a pronoun with another word. There are more than 100 prepositions in the English language. Some of the most common ones are: about, after, at, before, behind, between, for, from, in, of, on, since, to, under, and with. Since there are so many of them, we often divide the prepositions into eight categories: time, place, direction or movement, manner, agent or instrument, measure, source, and possession. Don’t worry though, the easiest way to learn them is by looking at the use of prepositions with examples.
Now you are ready to understand when to use to and when to use for in English.
To: uses and examples in English
#1 – Reasons and purpose (actions)
Use to to talk about reasons and purpose. This answers a “why” question. Why did you go home? I went home to see my mother.
Here are some more examples of how to use to for reasons or purpose:
- I did that course to learn more about social media management.
- I hired a tutor to help me learn French.
#2 – Wishing something to someone
If you need to share congratulations, greetings or wishes to someone, use the preposition to.
Here are some more examples of how to use to to wish something to someone.
- Happy Thanksgiving to your family!
- Say hello to your brother!
#3 – When talking about giving something to someone
Use to to identify the person who receives something. We often use to this way with the verbs give, hand, send, and write.
Here are some examples.
- Mary gave a present to her mother.
- Tom sent an email to his professor.
- I wrote a letter to my boyfriend.
- She handed the homework to her teacher.
#4 – To make the infinitive form of a verb
Some main verbs are followed by an infinitive verb. To make the infinitive form, you have to use to. Here are some verbs that are followed by an infinitive verb (to + verb).
- He has to make dinner.
- The children learned to listen.
- We happened to see our friends at the market.
- I hope to visit my parents next year.
#5 – When talking about destination or movement towards somewhere
If you are describing your destination, you probably need to use to as a preposition to identify the place.
Here are some examples:
- Let’s go to the movies tonight!
- I am traveling to Asia next year.
Sometimes, you may be describing a destination but should not use to. Here are some words that do not use to. These are adverbs of place.
abroad anywhere away downstairs east everywhere here home indoors inside north nowhere outdoors outside overseas somewhere south there upstairs west
#6 – When talking about time
Some time phrases use the word to. Here are some examples.
- It’s a quarter to ten.
- The school is open from Monday to Friday.
#7 – for approximate numbers
If you are not sure about the exact price, time or number of something, you can use to between two numbers to make it approximate.
- It will probably cost you 50 to 60 dollars.
- I will get there in 5 to 10 minutes, ok?
#8 – After certain verbs and verb phrases
After some verbs, you need to use the word to. Some verbs include: be used, get used, listen, look forward, object, reply, and respond.
Here are some examples
- I am used to the hot weather.
- We look forward to seeing you!
- The lawyer objected to the question.
- Did you reply to his email?
#9 – After some adjectives related to people’s behavior,
Sometimes with some adjectives about people’s behavior, you should use to. Some of these adjectives are: cruel, faithful, generous, kind, and loyal
- You should be kind to your grandmother.
- He is generous to his friends.
For: uses and examples
#1 – Reasons and purposes (things)
You can use for to talk about reasons and purposes also, but not with action verbs. Use for with nouns like events, plans, or gerunds (verb + ing).
Here are some examples of using for to describe purpose or reason:
- Lisa is going overseas for a medical conference. (event)
- I will meet Adam for lunch tomorrow. (plan
- We need new sneakers for running. (gerund)
#2 – When talking about someone who received something
If you are describing the beneficiary of a gift, you can use for.
Here are some examples of using for to describe who was given a gift.
- I bought a new TV for my parents.
- Mike will rent a house for his daughter.
#3 – Duration of time
If you need to describe the duration of time (seconds, hours, days, months, years), you should use for.
Here are some examples of using for to describe duration of time:
- I lived in Germany for 12 years.
- I’ve been working here for 2 months.
#4 – When referring to exchange
Exchange refers to changing to items for equal or nearly equal value. Use for to describe the relationship between the items.
- I bought 2 dresses for 10 dollars.
- I got 83 euros for 100 dollars at today’s exchange rate.
#5 – To express support or agreement
Many people will use for to describe something they believe in. The structure of this is: subject + to be + for + idea
Here are some examples of using for to express support:
- Are you for or against proposition #12?
- “I’m for truth, no matter who tells it. I’m for justice, no matter who it’s for or against.” Malcolm X
Talking about reasons and purposes: to or for?
You have probably noticed that we use both to and for to talk about reasons and purposes. You are probably wondering…how will I know which one I should use?
Let’s take a look at two examples we gave above.
I will meet Adam for lunch tomorrow.
I hired a tutor to help me learn French.
By looking at these sentences, we can notice a pattern. After for we have a noun (in this case, the word lunch). After to we have a verb (in this case, the word help).
Let’s take a look at some other examples to understand when we would use to and when we would use for.
- She wants to buy a watch to give to her husband on their anniversary. (give is a verb)
- She wants to buy her husband a watch for the anniversary. (the anniversary is a noun)
- Julia will go to Rome to learn Italian. (learn is a verb)
- Julia will go to Rome for a Italian course. (a Italian course is a noun)
- Kelly went to Tokyo to work at a technology company. (work is a verb)
- Kelly moved to Tokyo for a new job at a technology company. (a new job is a noun)
Exercises to practice English prepositions
Are you ready to test yourself? Try these to vs for exercises.
Take a look at the sentences below and fill in the blanks with either to or for.
We hope this blog post helps you understand the differences between to and for. Practice everything you’ve learned with these prepositions in English with the exercises and examples above! Happy studying, guys!