I wonder why the sentence below uses "to" instead of "for":

That simple idea describes the heart of unit testing: the single most effective technique to better coding.

Perhaps, I do not know clearly the differences between 'to' and 'for'

Could you clarify me about it in terms of this sentence?

  • Perhaps because "a technique for bettering coding" sounds a little awkward. Also, "a technique to [verb]" suggests that it is about something that hasn't happened yet, unless the technique is applied. – Damkerng T. Mar 12 '14 at 17:02
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    It's poor phrasing, probably not written by a competent native speaker in the first place. The simplest way to "fix" it isn't to change to to for (it's still clumsy). Instead, change technique to route. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 12 '14 at 17:53

"the single most effective technique to better coding" is indeed poor phrasing, but the simple alternatives also sound awkward, and possibly the author was trying to avoid them.

Taking "better" as a verb (meaning "improve"):

1) "the single most effective technique with/by which to better coding"

2) "the single most effective technique for bettering coding"

Taking "better" as a comparative adjective:

3) "the single most effective technique for better coding"

4) "the single most effective technique with/by which to achieve better coding" (or "to improve coding")

None of these are particularly good fixes. Sometimes a restructuring or different choice of words is best, eg,

"the single most effective route to better coding",

(as FumbleFingers said in comments)


"the single most effective way to achieve better coding".

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  • I agree with your answer. However, I think your answer avoid one important thing. I believe that in the writer's mind, whatever being discussed was viewed as a technique, not a route, not a road, not even a way. It is the most effective technique that, in their opinion, allows whoever uses it to achieve better coding. – Damkerng T. Mar 15 '14 at 20:04
  • That is true. But this is something that I address in my sentences 1 and 4. As you say, the technique allows the user to achieve better coding. It is a tool that is used to achieve something, not a tool to achieve something. So "technique to achieve" doesn't work as it does for "way to achieve." To use the word "technique", it should be "technique with/by which to ..." or, as per your example, "The most effective technique that allows the user to...". – nxx Mar 15 '14 at 21:54

This sentence is kind of awkward, but in this instance, "to better" is a verb infinitive, not a preposition.

Perhaps wording it like this will clear up the sentence:

"...the single most effective technique to improve coding"

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  • I think this is an unlikely, if not perverse, interpretation. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Mar 12 '14 at 17:54
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    Unlikely maybe, but certainly not strange enough to warrant the description of "perverse". – Zach Thacker Mar 12 '14 at 18:15

I searched COCAE (for the phrases effective way for and effective way to) and found that most of the examples have for then noun (though exceptions are there). On the other hand, to then verb.

So, in our example, both are possible. Though the latter one is unlikely.

[adjective + noun] + for [noun] -> [most effective technique] for [better coding].
[adjective + noun] + to [verb] -> [most effective technique] to [better] coding.

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  • "way to [infinitive]" is acceptable in this context, but this cannot be generalised to "technique" in this context without the sentence being technically nonsensical (it does get used this way, though). I have been trying all day to come up with the explanation for why that is, but I just haven't been able to! – nxx Mar 13 '14 at 19:50
  • @nxx we are on the same boat. The crux of both the answers is same! :) – Maulik V Mar 14 '14 at 5:00
  • Okay! It just seemed to me you are suggesting noun + to verb always works, whereas it depends on the noun. – nxx Mar 15 '14 at 0:32

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