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When you serve a guest at a party or take an order from a customer at a restaurant, you could say:

What can I get you?

OR

What can I get for you?

Is there any difference in meaning between the two?

Which is more natural?

Some of the variations I can think of include:

What can I get (for) you today?

What can I get (for) you to drink?

  • What type of answer are you looking for? Just a confirmation that both forms are acceptable, or that one is more natural than the other? The difference between the two is that the first example omits the preposition whereas the second one includes it. I mean, other than getting an answer saying they prefer 1 or 2 or both, I don't see what else could be added. – Mari-Lou A Jan 11 '18 at 10:15
  • First, I'd like to know if they are equally natural. If so, I'd like to know why should anyone use the longer one when there's a shorter version. – JK2 Jan 11 '18 at 10:26
  • What makes you think that neither is unnatural? Did you come up with these examples yourself? Or did you read/hear them somewhere? The "longer" version basically consists of a syllable, a sound /fɔː/ so I hardly think the speaker is being verbose if a fɔː is included, it's not flowery language. – Mari-Lou A Jan 11 '18 at 10:33
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What can I get for you

sounds better to my ear. The preposition can be dropped, but I think this version flows better.

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What can I get for you?

Could I interpret the question as what value can I get by exchanging/ giving you up?

Although this sounds strange, it may stand valid. Suppose I'm getting rid of my old stuff, and I found a tea pot. Now, I'm looking at the teapot and asking this question. It's not a question where I'm expecting an answer; but a question nonetheless.

But, as you said, you could argue that this question can be asked by a person, who was, say, serving you in a diner or a pub, and grammatically, I don't think it is wrong to include a 'for' in the question.

Having said all this, sometimes in spoken English, you might find reconstructing the question from a possible answer, to be a quick hack to understanding the actual construction of the question.

For the question,

What can I get you?

The ideal answer would be something like: "Can I get a coffee?".

This is by far the simplest form of the sentence. When it comes to spoken English, or be it any language, we tend to shorten what we say, by leaving out redundant and obvious portions of the actual sentence, assuming that the listener understands the context, as long as the meaning of the sentence doesn't change.

On the other hand, if you had asked:

What can I get for you?

an ideal answer would be something like: "Can you get a coffee, for me?"

which sounds unnecessarily long, because it is quite obvious that the customer won't ask for a coffee for the next guy in the queue.

  • The offer described by the OP sounds like something said in a bar, restaurant or American diner. I don't think I have ever asked a server (waiter/ress) to ever "get" me something, it sounds terribly rude and presumptuous to my ears. I might say "Can you get me a coffee?" if I were friends... but not even then. Instead, "I'd like a coffee, please" or "May I have a coffee, please?" seems so much better and polite. – Mari-Lou A Jan 11 '18 at 10:10

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