The question is simple but I would like to understand the principle governing the choice of prepositions in the following examples.

I know it is not correct to say, for example

1) *I have come here for starting a business. (should be - to start)

2) *I have come here for telling you about it. (should be - to tell)

However, these are fine (I suppose, correct me if I am wrong)

3) I have come here for fishing.

4) I have come here to fish.

Why is it that it is wrong to say "have come here for starting a business" and why is it that 3) and 4) are OK? Do 3) and 4) mean different things?

  • I can't understand why would "1" and "2" be wrong. Though I must admit I have heard "to start" or "to tell" most.
    – Mistu4u
    Oct 6 '13 at 8:38
  • This Ngram sets the validity of your question.
    – Mistu4u
    Oct 6 '13 at 8:45
  • 1
    In (3), fishing is acting as a noun. It's analogous to "I have come here for golf." A resort would advertise "fishing, sailing, tennis, golf" (probably not golfing). Oct 6 '13 at 14:19
  • @Peter: I know what you mean, but let's not forget starting a business can be difficult. In which context it's obviously a noun too, since it's the subject of the statement. I think the key to the difference in OP's case is that (I at least) could reasonably say the fishing (or the golf in your example), but I wouldn't normally go somewhere for the starting of a business (unlike some people, who I gather would go to the opening of an envelope. :) Oct 7 '13 at 0:14
  • 1
    @FumbleFingers: all gerunds can be nouns, but some are happier being nouns than others. Oct 7 '13 at 1:03

For me the difference is that "for" expresses reason and "to" is for purpose. For example:

  1. Reason:

    He was fired for drinking during working hours. (Drinking was the reason he got fired.)

    She was fined for driving above the speed limit. (A fine was imposed as a result of speeding.)

  2. Purpose:

    You can go to the old airport to drive as fast as you want. (Driving is the purpose of going to the old airport.)

    They all come here to drink during working hours. (Drinking is the purpose of coming here.)

That is why in examples 1 and 2 we use the infinitive. My coming here is not a result of the starting or the telling. Starting a business and telling you about it are the purpose.

Sometimes the difference is not so obvious, like the fishing example above. As already commented, If I came for the fishing, it is the reason which brought me here. Whether I want to do that or watch others do it or I came to impose fines because fishing is not allowed here is not specified. If I came to fish, however, this was my purpose, so I plan to do some fishing.

  • Now, Can you explain the difference between reason and purpose?
    – hellodear
    Jan 26 '14 at 7:05
  • "Purpose" is what you are trying to achieve. "Reason" is the thing that made you do it. For example, in "I was hungry, so I made a sandwich and ate it.", the reason for making the sandwich is that I was hungry. The purpose of making it was to eat it, and not be hungry.
    – fluffy
    Mar 3 '14 at 16:11
  • Pretty slippery ground, esp. for the learner, when the ODO defines purpose as The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists and lists reason as well as aim, function, objective, etc as synonyms for purpose. The reason and the purpose I bought this hair dryer is for drying my hair/to dry my hair seems to demolish this answer.
    – user6951
    Jun 16 '15 at 4:04

I think there are two factors here:

  1. Starting a business, by including a direct object, forces a verb reading, which then forces the use of "come to verb" rather than "come for noun". (This distinction is an interesting property of English gerunds. For example, we can say "Starting a business is hard" and "The starting of a business is hard", but not generally *"Starting of a business is hard" nor *"The starting a business is hard"; we have to choose either a verb-ish tack or a noun-ish one, we can't generally mix-and-match.) As a result, "I came for the starting of a business" is much better than *"I came for starting a business."
  2. Some gerunds, such as fishing and swimming, are highly conventionalized as nouns denoting activities, and are essentially equivalent to nouns like football and tennis.

By the way, I think it's important to note that "I came for fishing" (or "I came for tennis", or "I came for the starting of a business") does not necessarily mean the same as "I came to fish" (or "I came to play tennis", or "I came to start a business"); rather, it just means that the fishing (or tennis, or business-starting) was my reason for coming. For example, perhaps I came to watch or witness the fishing (or the tennis, or the starting of the business).

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