There's so many meanings for "for" If somebody uses a short sentence and you also don't have the context how do you understand?

Example, when you say "jump for joy", how do you distinguish:

"jump if you want joy" (commanding)


"I got so excited so I jumped" (voluntarily jumped)

  • 1
    "jump for joy" is a set phrase in English with specific meanings, which may or may not include actual "jumping". Don't take it literally. – user3169 Sep 23 '17 at 20:33
  • does for ever mean "if you want", the only example i could think was "come here for pudding" but that actually mean "come here and get pudding". – WendyG Apr 15 at 11:25

The phrase “jump for joy” pretty much means, “jump with joy,” although, as the commenter said, it often refers to figurative joy without literal jumping.

The fans jumped for joy after their team won the championship.

If I read that sentence, I’d assume that some of the fans might have literally jumped, but others may have simply shouted and cheered instead.

As for your more general question (How can you tell which meaning of “for” is intended when there are so many to choose from?), prepositions are notoriously difficult to explain and pin down. Often, the meaning of the specific word is vague, and may even overlap with another preposition, such as with or on. For example, when I say:

This happened for no good reason.

that’s pretty much the same as:

This happened without a good reason.

Other times, the meaning is more idiomatic; for example, if I say:

For the time being...

that means:

As of right now...

I wish I could share some nugget of wisdom that unlocks this mystery, but all I can say is that you’ve identified a thorny challenge for learners: there’s no reliable, magic way to figure out which of the dictionary’s several meanings will map to the one you’ve stumbled across.

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