Prepositions: to | for

Questions
Overview

To decide when to use ‘to’ and ‘for’, there are some basic rules that can help (see below). There are also many exceptions (especially when using fixed expressions).

Tips for using ‘to’:

'To' is generally used when expressing destination, movement and transfer:

English Portuguese Explanation
Destination I will go to Paris. Eu vou à Paris. movement with destination
Movement / transfer I will give this present to you Eu vou dar esse presente a você transfer from one person to another
Movement (time) I work from Monday to Friday Eu trabalho de segunda à sexta movement from one time point to another

Note: it is common to see sentence constructions that use ‘to’ but not as a preposition. It's a good idea to get familiar with these:

  • Infinitive verb - I want to buy a bicycle
  • Phrasal verb - I am looking forward to the event
  • Prepositional verb - He invited me to the party
  • Connector expression - I called them (in order) to find out more about the problem

Tips for using ‘for’:

'For' is often used when expressing purpose, benefit and time periods:

English Portuguese Explanation
Purpose This knife is for cutting Esta faca é para cortar the purpose of the knife is explained in this phrase
Benefit I bought this present for Jack Eu comprei este presente para Jack for the benefit of Jack
Time period I lived in Canada for 4 years Eu morei no Canadá por 4 anos for a period of 4 years/months/days etc
Further learning
Description Author Language
An explanation of how 'for' can mean 'on behalf of'. Ask Jackie
Some rules that generally help for deciding between 'to' and 'for'. Cintya Sabino
12 quick rules to help choose between 'to' and 'for' Espresso English
Some rules that generally help for deciding between 'to' and 'for'. English with Lucy