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What’s the purpose – ‘for’ or ‘to’?

A common confusion is when to use ‘for’ to describe purpose and when to use ‘to’.

When the focus is on a thing, for is probably going to be used:

This medication is for malaria prevention.

And when the focus is more on the process, then to is more likely to be used:

She needs to take medication to prevent malaria.

But it’s not as clear cut as for goes with nouns and to with verbs.

If the purpose is tightly linked to the object, for can be used like this:

A thermometer is used for measuring temperature.
This room is used
for treating patients.

When the steps involved are the focus, then to is used to explain why someone is doing something:

We use thermometers to measure temperature.
We use this room
to treat elderly patients.

Depending on your focus, you can say:

This medication is for preventing malaria.
This medication is
to prevent malaria.

In the first, you’re highlighting the medication while in the second malaria.

So, the choice is between thing/place and outcome.

The best way to remember the difference is to make up your own catchphrases.

Liked this? See here, here and here for more common confusions.

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© Christina Wielgolawski