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I often say "causing harm for X", but I am not sure if this is semantically and grammatically correct? What do you think?

  1. We need to pollute less, because not doing so will cause harm for all of humanity.

  2. We need to insure the minimum amount of harm for all of humanity.

In the second example, "for" seems to be more justified, but I am not sure if there's a rule for when to use "for" instead of "to". Could you break down what the rules would be and when to use "to" instead of "for" and is "for" really wrong, or is it just informal?

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They are pretty close in meaning, actually! Here are the rules:

Use to when you want to express that the result of the verb will affect or in some way be done /to/ the following noun.

Use for when you want to express that the action is being done for the sake of or on behalf of the following noun, or when the preceding object is intended to be given, to affect, or be caused or expected by the following noun.

These can overlap a lot, so sometimes either one is good!

What is more of a problem above is confusing ensure and insure:

Use ensure to indicate a process of making an uncertain event more certain.

Use insure or when you mean taking a course of action that makes the negative effects of a contingency less costly or bad, or when you are speaking of an insurance (financial product, or other object which insures in the first sense).

We need to pollute less, because not doing so will cause harm to all of humanity.

^ This means that if we do not pollute less, all of humanity will be harmed as a result.

We need to ensure the minimum amount of harm to all of humanity.

^ This means that should do so so that all of humanity will be harmed minimally.

We need to ensure the minimum amount of harm for all of humanity.

^ This means that on behalf of, or for the sake of all of humanity, we need to make certain that we do the least harm. The object of the harm is not specified, but we understand it to also be humanity.

It could also mean roughly the same as the above example - because the minimum amount of harm is intended for all of humanity by the recommended action.

If you were to say:

We need to pollute less, because not doing so will cause harm for all of humanity.

^ This would not be incorrect grammar, but it is less common use, and may sound awkward. Although most listeners would understand what you meant, it can sound like all of humanity wants the speaker to cause harm to some unspecified thing, and the speaker does not want to fulfill their wish.

It could also have the second sense of for above, so it isn't "wrong" and you may find some occurrences where for is used like this. But you should likely prefer to use to here instead.

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