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On the website, we see the sentence 'man sues his wife over ugly children.' I would like to know the difference when we use 'for' or 'on' instead of 'over' in this sentence in meaning.

  1. man sues his wife over ugly children.

  2. man sues his wife on ugly children.

  3. man sues his wife for ugly children.

Could you please explain the difference in meaning and usage.

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    Could you please provide some sort of feedback when users take the time and trouble to answer your questions. This feedback can be as simple as leaving an upvote, or a comment asking for clarification. Thanks.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 22 '16 at 6:48
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    +1 @Mari-LouA - However, it is not certain that every OP understands what is written in response to a given question. Many responders write their answers with subsequent quærents in mind, rather than the instant poster. The benefit thus accrues to many, rather than just to one. Sep 22 '16 at 7:03
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    Out of curiosity, what is wrong with posting an image that is related to the question? It shows immediately where the OP read the phrase, the image explains why it was reported, and lastly, the visual content helps learners understand the meanings of "wife", "to sue" "ugly" and "children".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 22 '16 at 8:04
  • I wonder why the headline contains the word "his". Sep 22 '16 at 10:31
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    If on is used, it would be "Man sues manufacturer on the grounds that its toothpaste was toxic." Sep 22 '16 at 10:37

It would be odd to say

I am suing for children
I am suing XYZ for children

It could mean a number of things:

  1. I am suing because I want to obtain "children" as payment.

sue for something
to file a lawsuit in order to get something.

  • If you so much as harm a hair on my head, I will sue for damages.
  • Ted sued for back pay in his dispute with a former employer
  1. I am suing XYZ because I want children from XYZ

sue someone for something
to file a lawsuit against someone in order to get something.

  • I will sue you for damages if you do anything else to my car!
  • She sued her employer for failure to provide a safe workplace.
  1. I am suing on behalf of the children, who are unable to.
    But this would be an ellipses of: "I'm suing XYZ for (all the) children (who are the victims)."


a. Used to indicate the recipient or beneficiary of an action: prepared lunch for us.
b. On behalf of: spoke for all the members.
c. In favor of: Were they for or against the proposal?
d. In place of: a substitute for eggs.

You definitely cannot sue on (ugly) children.

I am suing on children — NO
I am suing XYZ on children — NO
Mari-Lou A sues XYZ on ugly children — NO

(also impossible because any children of mine are beautiful)

But as @TRomano has pointed out in the comments, you can sue (someone) on the grounds of something. If an offence has been committed, you have the grounds = legal basis for a lawsuit.

Man sues wife on grounds of ugly children (headlinese)
Man sues wife on the grounds that his children are ugly

The preposition over in the headline cited by the OP is the most suitable one:

Man sues his wife over ugly children, and wins

The preposition is short for "on the question of", "in reference to", "concerning", "on the matter of", etc.

9. on the subject of; about: an argument over nothing.

  • Yes, but what about the use and meaning of "sue over/on" OP is actually asking about?
    – user5267
    Sep 22 '16 at 10:26
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    +1. We can also sue someone for having done something or for having failed to do something. Sue them for not installing the roof properly, or for libelous statements, for breach of contract, for malpractice. Sep 22 '16 at 10:26
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    @xxxxxx you can't "sue on children" or "sue somebody on children" that's for sure. As for "over" well I was hoping you would undelete your answer. If you don't, I'll think about making my answer more complete.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Sep 22 '16 at 10:27
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    @Mari-LouA - that is what the quesion is about, so it could be useful to include "sue over/on" usages and differences if any vs "sue for".
    – user5267
    Sep 22 '16 at 10:29

Generally speaking, in this context, the prepositions "over", "for", and "about" would be commonly understood as meaning "because of", "regarding", or "due to"...

I don't exactly know a reason why, but the preposition "on" does not carry the same value in my understanding.

Good question; very difficult to give a complete answer...

  • 1
    Welcome to ELL, and thanks for your answer. References might make your answer more useful. Please review our tour and Help Center pages. There is no reason in grammar to prefer one or the other preposition. It's idiomatic in English to sue for or over a cause. Because of could be substituted with no loss of meaning. OED has: a. To institute a suit for, make a legal claim to; hence gen., to petition or appeal for; to seek to obtain. Now rare (superseded by sue for, 21b). Sep 22 '16 at 6:03
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    @P.E.Dant - answers in comments are not useful for present and futures users. Comments may be removed or deleted anytime.
    – user5267
    Sep 22 '16 at 6:42
  • @xxxxxx Your answer is interesting and sufficient. An interested scholar need only consult that reference. A truly comprehensive summary of the many uses of the verb sue could require thousands of words. The OED has three score entries! Sep 22 '16 at 6:53

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