How to Use TO & FOR ⚡️English Prepositions | Common Grammar Mistakes

Lesson Overview

Lesson Summary 

TO & FOR These English prepositions can be confusing!

Today, you’ll practise how to use the prepositions ‘to’ and ‘for’ correctly in English sentences.

Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Welcome to my channel! Notice that I said, “Welcome to my channel“? Not “Welcome for my channel”

You’re probably here for learning English, right? To learn English, right? Man, those little words ‘to’ and ‘for’, they’re so tiny but when they’re used as prepositions in English sentences, grammar can get quite confusing! Can’t it? I’m sure that you’ve been confused by these words at some point. So in this lesson, I’ll go over them in a little detail so that you can feel more confident using them while you write, while you speak in English.

Prepositions, in general, are pretty easy to confuse. For some of you, part of the problem is that with these prepositions, you’re thinking about the way that you use them in your own language not how they’re used in English and it can be different. For example, Spanish and Portuguese speakers often use the preposition ‘en’ where in English we use both ‘on’ and ‘in’. Two separate words with very different uses in English. So part of the challenge when you’re learning is understanding how to use them separately in English and what the difference is, when to use one or the other.

Some languages don’t really rely on prepositions much at all. I mean sometimes English prepositions don’t have a lot of logic to them. They don’t always make sense. And for all of these reasons, English prepositions must be learned and practised in context with other words. So we won’t focus too much on each individual preposition in this lesson. We’ll look at words that they’re often used with.

And just before we get started, you might be interested in some of the other lessons that I’ve made about prepositions. My playlist’s up there. I’ve made lessons about in, on, at, by. Lots of other prepositions.

But back to these two prepositions we’re talking about today.

Sometimes, using the wrong preposition doesn’t affect the meaning of your sentence too much. Native speakers will recognise the mistake, but they probably won’t correct you on it because they’ll still understand you. But with these two prepositions, they can often be used in place of each other and sometimes, the meaning completely changes.

So here’s what I’m going to do in this lesson. I’m going to talk about the uses of ‘to’. I’m going to talk about the uses of ‘for’. And then I’m going to talk about the times when you could use either ‘to’ or ‘for’. And that’s where things get a little confusing! Make sure you stick around until the end of the lesson because later on, I’m going to teach you some common word collocations using ‘to’ and ‘for’ so you can stop guessing which one you need to use and just know which is the right one.

And before we get started, make sure you subscribe to the channel just by clicking that red button down there so that you can keep up-to-date with what’s happening. Okay, let’s start!

When to use ‘to’

When should you use the preposition ‘to’? So, you can use ‘to’ when there is some kind of movement from one place to another. Now keep in mind, this doesn’t only relate to physical movement and action. It could also relate to other types of movement. We can use ‘to’ when there’s some kind of transfer happening or something is being moved from one place to another – a destination. Something is being moved to somewhere or something. Right?

  • Do you usually take the bus to work?

So there’s movement, of course, in the direction to work. The destination is work. Now I’m going to give you a few other examples and I want you to pay attention to the destination or the direction being described in each one.

  • If you’re feeling sick, you should talk to a doctor.
  • Can you quickly run to the shops?
  • They invited us to their house for dinner.

Now if you’re talking about distance, you should also use ‘to’, since distance is the length or the time from one place to another – to a destination.

  • It’s only 6 kilometres from my house to the office.


Now we also use ‘to’ when we’re talking about time and the amount of time between two points in time. Of course, we use it when telling the time, right?

  • It’s a quarter to seven.
  • It’s five minutes to eight.

When we’re talking about one point in time to another point in time, we can also use ‘to’

  • The supermarket is open from 9am to 7pm.
  • I study English Monday to Thursday every week. 

From this time to that time. So this is a period from this time to that time. That’s the direction, that’s the movement.

Now if there are two things and you’d like one of those things a little more than the other, you prefer it, right? You prefer one thing to the other.

  • I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream.

I like chocolate ice cream more than vanilla. It’s way better obviously! And I would rather have chocolate ice cream.

  • He prefers riding his bike to walking.
  • Do you prefer tea to coffee?

Not me! I love coffee!

Okay, what about you now? I want you to tell me about some of your preferences in the comments below. So make sure you’re comparing two things and that you’re using the preposition ‘to’.

I prefer summer to winter, for example. Add it to the comments.

Now, we can also use ‘to’ to talk about the point where something finishes or ends. It’s the limit that you can’t go past.

  • During the flood, the water came up to my knees during the high season.

Okay I want to check you’ve been paying attention. Okay? Time for a quick quiz. What are the four different situations where we commonly see the preposition ‘to’ being used? The four situations that I just talked about. Write them in the comments. Quickly! You’ve got ten seconds!

  1. Direction or destination
  2. Time, the time between two points
  3. Preference
  4. And the limit or the endpoint of something.

When to use ‘for’

Right? Nice! Let’s check out what ‘for’ is used for now. So we can talk about benefits using ‘for’. The positive effects or results of something. So we can use ‘for’. For example, one of the benefits of eating ginger is that it helps your immune system. So..

  • Ginger is great for your immune system!
  • Exercising every day is good for your health!

Right? That’s a benefit. We also use ‘for’ to talk about time. We use it when we’re doing something over a period of time. So when something has happened for a number of hours, days, weeks, months, years.. you get the idea, right? We do something for a duration, a period of time.

  • They’ve been living in the city for three years already.
  • How long have you been studying medicine for?
  • I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes already. Where are you?!

Wait a second. Notice how all of those examples are using the perfect tense? ‘For’ is often used when talking about time in this way. You can actually check the lesson that I made about the present perfect tense and using ‘for’ and ‘since’ right here. I’ll link to it at the end of this lesson as well so you can keep watching this one now.

If you do something to help someone out or do something nice, then you are doing something for them.

  • I baked a cake for my sister.
  • I need to collect the mail for my grandma.
  • Hey, can you grab those boxes for me?

You’ll see from these examples that this is an important one to know so that you can ask someone for a favour.

  • Can you please do something for me?

This is a helpful phrase, right? A helpful one to know. It’s a really common expression. Can you help me? Can you do something for me?


What’s this thing’s purpose? What’s its function? What’s it used for? Well it’s used for drinking and filling up with water. Remember that we use ‘for’ when we’re talking about a function or a use. We use the form ‘for’ plus verb -ing

What is it used for?

  • It’s used for drinking.
  • It’s used for taking. 
  • It’s used for driving.

So notice how the verb -ing form is always following ‘for’.

Okay things are about to get a little trickier during this lesson but before we do, I want to check that you’ve been paying attention again. We’re going to recap on the different uses of ‘for’. Can you remember them all? Write them down in the comments quickly. You’ve got ten seconds!

We talked about:

  1. The benefits
  2. The duration or a period of time
  3. We talked about helping someone
  4. And we talked about the function and the use of something, right?

Other uses

So all of those situations were ones where you can use ‘to’ or ‘for. It’s not a complete list. There are some other uses as well but they are definitely the most common ones.

Now another very common use for these prepositions is one where both of them can be used, which is where things get a little trickier. You can use both ‘to’ and ‘for’ to talk about a reason or a motive. So that is to talk about why someone is doing something, for what reason are they doing it? But in this case, they are not interchangeable. You can’t use either one in the same way but luckily, luckily there are some simple rules to remember that will help you to use them correctly.

Use ‘to’ when the motive or the reason is a verb and use ‘for’ when the motive or a reason is a noun. Make sure you write that down, that’s a super tip! Let’s check it out.

  • Why is he studying English?
    He’s studying English to apply for a job.

‘apply’ is a verb so we use ‘to’.

  • He’s studying English for work. 

Now ‘work’ here is a noun so we use ‘for’. So you’ve seen lots of common situations where we can use ‘to’ and ‘for’ but now let’s look at a few examples where you can use ‘to’ or ‘for’. Both of them can be used correctly but the meaning of each sentence changes so this is where you have to be a little careful, okay?

  • My assistant brought lunch to me.

Okay now remember, ‘to’ is used to talk about destination or direction, where there’s movement involved. So in this example, ‘lunch’ is coming to me. I’m the destination for lunch. My assistant physically carried the lunch and delivered it to me.

  • My boss brought lunch for me. 

So remember, ‘for’ is used to do something nice for someone, right? Or to help someone with something. My boss brought it to me because he wanted to do something nice for me. Both of those sentences are grammatically correct but using ‘for’ or ‘to’ changes the meaning, right? So you’ve got to be careful!

  • I made a quick phone call to my mum.

So ‘to’ helps us to understand the direction of the action, the destination of my phone call. I called and my mum received my phone call.

  • I made a quick phone call for my mum.

I’m doing her a favour now, aren’t I? I’m helping her. I’m making a call to someone else because maybe my mum couldn’t call them or maybe she didn’t want to for some reason so I called that person for her to help her, right?

Now there’s a bunch of different situations where you can use ‘to’ and ‘for’, but really, trying to memorise all of those situations is a pretty difficult way to learn them. There are just too many and it becomes really difficult and confusing to try and remember them all.

Now, back at the start of this lesson, I said that learning to use prepositions in context is really important. It’s the best way to learn to use prepositions correctly in English. Learning common collocations is going to be really useful for you. Like I said, it’s best to learn prepositions with the verb or the noun that they’re commonly used with.

Have you heard of collocations before? It means when words are often together in a sentence. They appear often in that way and so you’ll often hear them together, they sound right. They sound natural. And if they’re used incorrectly, they kind of sound weird or wrong. So memorising or becoming familiar with collocations is a really good strategy to help you remember which preposition is the right one to use. So do you want some examples? Let’s talk about some now.

apologise + for (something)
apologise + to (someone)

So with this verb, ‘apologise’, both prepositions can be used but with different results. We can apologise for something, the action. Or we can apologise to someone, so that’s the person receiving the apology.

  • He’s calling to apologise for missing the meeting yesterday.
  • He should apologise to his boss for missing the meeting yesterday.

Okay? So you’re sorry for missing the meeting but you need to apologise to your boss. Your boss is the person that you need to apologise to. So try to remember these collocations next time you do something wrong, right? When you’ve messed up and you’ve made a mistake. Try testing them out. You apologise to someone or you apologise for something.

travel + to (somewhere
travel + for (purpose/time)

Now we also travel to somewhere, right?

  • We travel to Cube for the holidays!
  • Have you ever travelled to Europe?

Okay, we use ‘travel to‘ but we also use ‘travel for’ when we’re talking about a purpose or even a time.

  • I’m travelling for three weeks.
  • I’m travelling for work.

For the purpose of work, right?

apply + for (something)
apply + to (person)

You apply for something, right?

  • I’m applying for a scholarship.
  • I’m applying for a new job. 

But we can also apply to a person, okay?

ask + for (something) 

We ask for something, right?

  • I’m asking for a new backpack for my birthday.
  • Ask for help if you don’t understand!

If you need it. Ask for help.

belong + to (someone/a group)

We use ‘belong to‘ when we’re talking about ownership or being part of something, right?

  • Do you know whose dog that belongs to?
  • That car that I smashed belongs to my dad’s company.

Notice that we don’t use ‘belong for‘, right?

care + for (something/someone)

We also care for something or someone.

  • I’ve taken time off work to care for my mum after her operation. 

prepare + for (something

We prepare for something, right?

  • I need to prepare for my exam tomorrow!
  • Can you please help me prepare for dinner tonight? There’s a lot of people coming around.

wait + for (something/someone)
wait + to (do something)

Now we use ‘wait for’ something or someone, right? ‘Wait for‘ with a noun.

  • I’ve been waiting for the bus forever. It’s taking ages!
  • Can you please wait for me?

All right, we’re waiting for something but we can also wait to do something. Okay, we can ‘wait to buy‘, you know. So ‘wait to‘ is followed by a verb.

If you can learn and remember some of those collocations that we just talked about, they’re really common. They occur all the time. Well, then you’ll be so much closer to using the prepositions ‘to’ and ‘for’ like a total pro! Actually, why don’t you give that a go right now? Right now! Practice makes perfect, right? So in the comments, pick a few of those common collocations, the ones that we just talked about.

Maybe challenge yourself a little by picking the ones that you haven’t heard very much or you don’t use very much yourself. But write a few sentences in the comments below. I’ll be checking to see if you’ve got them right and give you some feedback if you need it okay?

Thanks for joining me today! Make sure you subscribe if you haven’t already and send me a little message down below and say hi. If you want to keep practising though, of course, you want to keep practising, right? Check out this lesson here or this one is the present perfect lesson that I mentioned earlier where I talk a bit more about using ‘for’ Okay? ‘for’ and ‘since’. I’ll see you in the next lesson!

Links mentioned in the video

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