In fact, that morning, as Mr. MacPherson hesitated on a scalp of glittering white ice, there were already three Gentiles in the school (that is to say, Anglo-Saxons; for Ukrainians, Poles, and Yugoslavs, with funny names and customs of their own, did not count as true Gentiles), and ten years hence F.F.H.S would no longer be the Jewish high school.

-The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz by Mordecai Richler -

Can I take 'for' here to mean 'because'?

  • You could look this up in any dictionary: for conj because, since. – Robusto Apr 26 '17 at 3:42
  • @Robusto I did but I wasn't sure. – whitecap Apr 26 '17 at 3:58
  • 3
    @Robusto: When the number of definitions for a single word hits the high double digits, it's no longer terribly practical to require learners to find the one or two applicable ones before being allowed to ask here. – Nathan Tuggy Apr 26 '17 at 4:05
  • I'm really glad you got an answer you liked so quickly, but you might want to wait a while before selecting an answer. This post on meta explains some reasons why: Not so fast! (When should I accept my answer?) – ColleenV Apr 26 '17 at 11:41

In this context, for means because.


I have been playing with the words in my head, trying to delineate the exact differences between for and because. All I have come up with are

First, for has a more elegant, even pompous sound to it. The King James Version of the Bible renders Mark 5:9 as

And he asked him, What is thy name? And he answered, saying, My name is Legion: for we are many.

Most newer translations have kept the "for", but the New Living Translate goes with

Then Jesus demanded, "What is your name?" And he replied, "My name is Legion, because there are many of us inside this man."

Clearer, of course, especially to a young or ESL reader, but the power of the passage is lost.

Also, the word for -- in part, I think, because of its primary sense of purpose or intention -- carries a stronger notion of causality. "A because B" literally means "B is the cause of A" but perhaps only in a simple, unexceptional way ("I ate because I was hungry.")

"A for B" suggests "A, unlikely and unintuitive though it is, really happened and it only happened owing to B." ("I would die for her, for I love her with all my heart.")

Does that help?

"I'm not lost for I know where I am."
-- A.A. Milne

"I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself, for I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition."
-- Martha Washington

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me."
-- Psalm 23:4 (KJV again)

When in doubt, use "because".


Yes, the preposition for can introduce a clause of explanation or clarification, which gives it a meaning very close to because.

There is an implicit "he counted only three even though there were apparently more" and the for-clause explains the discrepancy.

for could also be paraphrased with since or inasmuch as.

Here, the for-clause not only explains the discrepancy, it identifies it. Had the passage said "he counted only three...", then we would have been tipped off earlier about the discrepancy. The discrepancy emerges when he begins to qualify what he means by "Gentiles"..."that is to say, Anglo-Saxons; for...".

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