This is a ‘5 levels’ lesson. The lesson has five parts. Each section will give you a challenge. Each section is designed to be more difficult than the previous ones.
You’ll probably find different parts easier or more difficult. This will help you to understand where you have problems; in each section, we’ll give you an idea of what you need to know in order to understand the challenge fully.
Level one is beginner, so if you’re not a beginner, you should skip to level two.
Look at five sentences. Complete each sentence with either ‘to’ or ‘for’.
What time do you go ________ bed?
Can you hold this ________ me?
The supermarket is open from eight ________ seven.
My grandfather gave this watch ________ me when I was five.
I bought a birthday present ________ my sister.
Pause the video and do it now!
Ready? Let’s look at the answers.
What time do you go to bed?
Can you hold this for me?
The supermarket is open from eight to seven.
My grandfather gave this watch to me when I was five.
I bought a birthday present for my sister.
‘To’ and ‘for’ both have many different uses in English.
Some are simple. You use ‘to’ to talk about going somewhere.
For example ‘go to the shop’, ‘go to London’, ‘go to China’, and so on.
There’s one common exception: you say ‘go home’, without ‘to’.
Use ‘for’ when you do something for someone else. For example, you can hold something for someone, carry something for someone, buy something for someone, and so on.
Use ‘to’ when you’re talking about an end point in time or space. In these cases, you often use ‘from… to…’
I’ll be here from Monday to Friday.
The new road runs from the capital city to the south coast.
You can also use ‘to’ with verbs of giving, like in sentence four. However, with these verbs, it’s common to use a structure without ‘to’. For example, with ‘give’, you can give someone something, or give something to someone. Both structures are possible, but the first is more common.
So, you can say: ‘Give the bottle to me.’
Or: ‘Give me the bottle.’
Both are possible, but the second is more common.
These are some of the most common ways to use ‘to’ and ‘for’. Let’s move on to level two, where you’ll see another important use of these two prepositions.
Here are your sentences for level two.
In each sentence, you need to choose ‘to’ or ‘for’.
I stopped on the way home ________ get a coffee.
I stopped on the way home ________ a coffee.
This little metal thing is used ________ open bottles.
This little metal thing is used ________ opening bottles.
Are you here ________ business or tourism?
Pause the video, and think about your answers.
Are you ready? Here are the answers.
I stopped on the way home to get a coffee.
I stopped on the way home for a coffee.
This little metal thing is used to open bottles.
This little metal thing is used for opening bottles.
Are you here for business or tourism?
You can use ‘to’ and ‘for’ to give a reason for doing something, or to explain the function of something.
In sentences one and two, you’re talking about your reason for doing something. Why did you stop on the way home? To get a coffee. Or, for a coffee.
Look at two more examples:
We need to go to the shop to buy some batteries.
We need to go to the shop for some batteries.
Again, you’re talking about why you’re going to the shop.
In this case, you can use ‘to’ plus an infinitive verb, or ‘for’ plus a noun.
In sentences three and four, you’re talking about the function of something. What does this little metal thing do? It’s used to open bottles, or for opening bottles.
Look at two more examples like this:
She developed a tool to analyse data collected at different times and places.
She developed a tool for analysing data collected at different times and places.
So, we’re talking about ‘reason’ and ‘function’. Are these ideas the same?
No – they’re different. Let’s see how.
‘Reason’ tells you why someone does something. Here, you can use ‘to’ plus an infinitive or ‘for’ plus a noun. Don’t use ‘for’ plus an -ing verb.
‘Function’ tells you what something is used for, for example a tool. Here, you can use three structures: ‘to’ plus infinitive verb, ‘for’ plus -ing or ‘for’ plus noun.
If you’re not sure whether to use ‘to’ or ‘for’ in sentences like this, what can you do?
If you’re not sure whether a sentence is about reason or function, then try to use ‘to’ plus infinitive if you can, because you can use this in both cases.
Review this section if you need to, and think more about the difference between reason and function. It’s a common mistake to use ‘for’ plus -ing when talking about reason, for example ‘We stopped on the way home for getting a coffee.’
Remember, this is NOT correct! But, it’s a common mistake.
Let’s move on to level three, where you’ll see more mistakes which English learners often make with ‘to’ and ‘for’.
Level three is a little different. Four sentences are incorrect; only one is correct.
Jogging two or three times a week is good to your health.
I phoned to him several times, but he didn’t answer.
We need to go to the post office for sending this package.
Let’s take a break for eating something.
They left for the airport at 5:00 this morning.
You have two jobs. First, find the correct sentence. Second, correct the mistakes in the other four sentences. Got it? Pause the video, and find your answers. Take as long as you need!
Could you do it? Which sentence do you think is correct? Let’s see.
Jogging two or three times a week is good tofor your health.
I phoned to him several times, but he didn’t answer.
We need to go to the post office for sendingto send this package.
Let’s take a break for eatingto eat something.
They left for the airport at 5:00 this morning.
‘To’ and ‘for’ are used after many verbs, adjectives and nouns.
Many of these are fixed phrases, meaning you just need to remember them as you learn. ‘Good for your health’ is one expression like this.
You can also say ‘good for you’, which has the same meaning, and is more natural-sounding, especially in conversational English. So, you could say ‘Jogging two or three times a week is good for you.’ Learn more with this Oxford Online English lesson on how to have a conversation.
There are some verbs like ‘phone’, ‘call’, ‘ask’ or ‘answer’ which are used with ‘to’ or a similar idea in many other languages, but not in English. Is this true for your language? Do you say ‘phone to someone’ or ‘phone someone?’
If in your language, you say ‘phone to someone’, you need to be careful with mistakes like in sentence two! In English, you phone someone, call someone, ask someone and answer someone, without ‘to’.
What about sentence three? You heard about this in level two. This sentence expresses reason – why did you go to the post office? To express reason, don’t use ‘for’ plus an -ing verb. Here, because there’s a verb – ‘send’ – you need to use ‘to’ plus an infinitive verb.
Sentence four has the same problem. You’re talking about reason – why are you taking a break? – and there’s a verb – ‘eat’. So, you can only use ‘to’ plus infinitive.
Sentence five is correct. Do you find it strange? Normally, you use ‘to’ to talk about the destination, or end point of a journey. However, with verbs like ‘leave’, ‘depart’ or ‘set out’, you use ‘for’ instead.
Remember: there’s a lot of information and different topics in this lesson. If you want more examples, go to a good online dictionary; we recommend Lexico. Look up ‘to’ or ‘for’ and you can find many examples of the different ways to use these two prepositions.
This time, there are two gaps in each sentence.
Put either ‘to’ or ‘for’ in each gap.
I’m waiting ________ them ________ reply to my email.
They sold their old car ________ our son ________ £900.
It’s not easy ________ me ________ hear what they’re saying.
There’s no reason ________ you ________ worry.
He apologised ________ his colleagues ________ being so late.
Do you have the answers? No? Pause the video and think about your answers! Don’t just wait for us to tell you!
Ready now? OK, here are the answers.
I’m waiting for them to reply to my email.
They sold their old car to our son for £900.
It’s not easy for me to hear what they’re saying.
There’s no reason for you to worry.
He apologised to his colleagues for being so late.
With some verbs, nouns and adjectives, it’s possible to use *either* ‘to’ or ‘for’ to express different ideas.
This means you can sometimes use *both* ‘to’ and ‘for’ after a verb, such as ‘wait’.
You can wait for something, wait for someone, or wait to do something. If you combine these, you can also wait for something to happen, or wait for someone to do something.
While it’s possible to use both ‘to’ and ‘for’ here, and with other words too, the order is not flexible. You wait for someone to do something. You can’t put the ‘to’ phrase before the ‘for’ phrase.
In sentence two, you could change the order of the ‘to’ and ‘for’ phrases, but in the other four sentences, you can’t.
In such cases, you need to learn the exact patterns which can follow each verb, noun or adjective: for example ‘apologise to someone’, ‘apologise for something’ and ‘apologise to someone for something’.
This is more of a vocabulary problem than a grammar one. If you have problems with this, then learning grammar rules isn’t the best solution. Learn and practise specific phrases, and try to use them in natural speech or writing, like you would with other new vocabulary. Continue learning grammar with our other free English grammar lessons.
Are you ready for the toughest challenge? Let’s see the sentences
She was reluctant ________ admit ________ us who she was working ________.
My phone’s broken – ________ the third time since I bought it – so I couldn’t see ________ their reactions ________ our proposal.
It’s warm ________ December, so there’s not as much demand ________ winter clothing as you’d normally ________ see at this time.
I made an appointment ________ next week, as I won’t have the chance ________ get there ________ a while after that.
Let’s aim ________ three o’clock, so we have ________ plenty of time ________ our discussions.
Each sentence has three spaces.
In each space, you can put ‘to’, ‘for’ or nothing.
You should put ‘to’ or ‘for’ if possible.
Pause the video and think about your answers now. We tried to make these sentences as challenging as we could, so take your time!
Ready? Let’s look together.
She was reluctant to admit to us who she was working for.
My phone’s broken – for the third time since I bought it – so I couldn’t see their reactions to our proposal.
It’s warm for December, so there’s not as much demand for winter clothing as you’d normally see at this time.
I made an appointment for next week, as I won’t have the chance to get there for a while after that.
Let’s aim for three o’clock, so we have plenty of time for our discussions.
In this lesson, you’ve seen different ways to use ‘to’ and ‘for’. There are other meanings of ‘to’ and ‘for’ which we haven’t covered. Here’s a test: can you remember three different ways to use ‘to’ and three different ways to use ‘for’? Pause the video for a few seconds and think about it.
Could you do it? If not, don’t worry. You don’t need to memorise every single way to use ‘to’ and ‘for’.
However, you should understand that if you’re asking questions like ‘how do I use ‘to’ and ‘for’’? or ‘what’s the difference between ‘to’ and ‘for’’? then you’re not asking one question. There are many ways to use ‘to’ and ‘for’, and many differences between them.
In level five, you needed to combine different uses of ‘to’ and ‘for’ in a single sentence. This is common in real-world English use; you may need to use ‘to’ and/or ‘for’ in different ways in the same sentence. This is where things get complicated.
So, what can you do? Here are two tips.
One: learn about using ‘to’ and ‘for’ to talk about purpose and function, which we covered in levels two and three. This causes the most problems for English learners.
Two: if you find it difficult to use ‘to’ and ‘for’, try to find the reason why. Which meaning of ‘to’ or ‘for’ is giving you problems? Do you just need to learn more fixed phrases using ‘to’ and ‘for’? Are you having problems because you’re trying to translate a structure from your language directly into English? Remember that English might use different structures to your native language.
Before we finish, a question: what difficulties do you have with ‘to’ and ‘for’? Can you think of any other common ways to use ‘to’ and ‘for’ that we haven’t mentioned in this video?