I found this structure in a book:

What is he looking for to buy?

It sounds correct to me but my friends insist it is wrong or sounds weird!
I'd like to know if, first, it is correct to use an infinitive with 'to' after a preposirion like 'for', and second,which of the sentences in this pair, as an answer to the question above sounds more correct?

He's looking for a shirt to buy.
He's looking to buy a shirt.

  • 1
    Idiomatically, I'm looking to [buy X, do Y, etc.] usually means I want / intend / expect to [do something] - without necessarily implying any allusion to the literal interpretation of looking = searching , visually scanning. If he's looking for a shirt to buy that means he's actively trying right now to find a shirt that he likes enough to buy. But if you say he's looking to buy a shirt, that might simply mean it appears likely to others that he might buy a shirt soon (even if that thought hasn't yet crossed his mind). Sep 7, 2017 at 14:17
  • @FumbleFingers So all the structures sound correct to you, in spite of the subtle differences between them? Sep 7, 2017 at 14:23
  • 1
    The differences aren't necessarily "subtle". For example, I could say I'm looking to buy a new car when I retire even if I'm nowhere near retirement, and don't intend to start actually looking at / for new cars for many years. But if I say I'm looking for a new car to buy when I retire, that means I'm actively searching (maybe not at this very moment - but "currently", in the more general sense). Sep 7, 2017 at 14:34

1 Answer 1


There's an excellent answer to this in the English Language Stackexchange here that explains where this originally came from. It's a very old way of speaking that showed up in the language in the 12 or 1300's and stuck around for a long time after that, especially in music or poetic language.

Using the "for to" combination like this is still a current idiomatic way of speaking that is natural to some English speakers, especially those in the Southern United States. If you do a google search on "for to by" or "for to sell" you'll find many people looking for to buy or for to sell things. Here is another excellent article that explains why this happened (and also explains why American English sounds more like 17th century British English than current British English does. Essentially, people in the southern United States are speaking a form of 17th century British English, where the "for to" combination was common.

So,using the term isn't incorrect, however it will sound awkward or less formal to most English speakers.

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