Of the People and For the People

We have a question from the Peanut Gallery – hooray!

Abdulkarim writes:

“Thank you very much for the valuable writing tips. How about FOR and OF? Can you say something about them? They are confusing, too.”

Ah, those pesky little prepositions! How can such little words carry so much meaning?

They aren’t even capitalized in titles, yet they really matter.

Take for instance, today’s Tip title, where these words are capitalized because of their importance. The reference is to Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, in which Honest Abe promises that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Here the word “of” means that the governing folks are members of the people, who are elected “by” the people who vote, to serve “for” the people’s benefit. So these itty-bitty prepositions pack a pretty large meaning into one elegant and eloquent sentence.

So let’s take a closer look at OF:

Point of reckoning:  North of Dallas

Point of origin:  Man of La Mancha, Queen of England

Point of cause:  Died of cancer

Material of composition:  Made of titanium, government of the people

Part of whole:  Half of the pie, property of the university

Derivation:  Function of permeability

Connection of feeling:  Fond of chocolate, love of nature

Quality:  Men of honor

And now let’s focus on FOR:

Purpose or goal:  Donation for the homeless, headed for home

Object of activity:  An eye for fashion, lie down for a rest

Constituting:  Chicken for supper, take him for a fool

Selection:  For one thing, for example

On behalf or in favor:  I vote for the amendment, government for the people

Equivalence:  Paid a dollar for a hamburger

Time or distance:  For two miles or for thirty minutes

In a general sense, use OF when something is already there and something else is part of it or has a relationship to it, whereas use FOR when something is approaching something else.

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