1

I know 'for' can be used as "on the occasion of" or "at the time of", so what's the difference between the two sentences in each group?

1A. I'd like make an appointment with the doctor for 11 o'clock tomorrow.
1B. I'd like make an appointment with the doctor at 11 o'clock tomorrow.

2A. We're having a party for Jim's 60th birthday.
2B. We're having a party on Jim's 60th birthday.

3A. I've booked a table at the restaurant at nine o'clock.
3B. I've booked a table at the restaurant for nine o'clock.

  • 3a and 3b seem to be the same. Am I misreading? – whiskeychief Aug 17 '19 at 10:43
  • @whiskeychief Sorry. I have corrected the typo. – Austin Aug 18 '19 at 1:37
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For indicates the purpose or goal. At [time] or on [day] specify when.

These overlap, but native speakers go more by the sense than any grammatical differences.

  • For someone's birthday means in order to celebrate the birthday
  • On someone's birthday means it's on that date

Examples to illustrate the difference:

  • I gave him a book for his birthday -- It's a gift to celebrate his birthday
  • He has an exam on his birthday -- It happens to be on that day
  • We are having a party for John's birthday, but his birthday is on a Monday and so we're having the party the Saturday before. -- Explaining it's a different day

To be somewhere for a particular time means to be ready to do something at that time. To be somewhere at a particular time means that's the time you arrive. For a doctor's appointment or a restaurant booking these are essentially the same thing. If you say to your friend "I need to be at the doctor for 9.00" you mean you want to be there ready to do something (see the doctor) at that time, and would be understood as wanting to get there perhaps 8.50 or 8.55.

In Britain it is rude to be early for social appointments, as well as rude to be late. Both in formal and informal situations you will see or hear "Come for dinner, seven for seven-thirty", which means dinner starts at 7.30, and you are supposed to arrive after seven. My advice for friends from punctual cultures is to arrive at 7.15. (Social rules about times are very dependent on cultures: this expression is British English only, as far as I know, and not used in North America.) Whole question on this phrase.

A business conference might well say "8.30 for 9.00 start" which means you can go as early as 8.30, have a coffee, take off your coat etc, and the first lecture would be at 9.00.

  • Thank your for such a detailed explanation! For the first group of two sentences, do they have the same meaning? 1A. I'd like make an appointment with the doctor for 11 o'clock tomorrow. 1B. I'd like make an appointment with the doctor at 11 o'clock tomorrow. For the second group of two sentences, "2A. We're having a party for Jim's 60th birthday." may indicate the party can happen before or after his birthday, but "2B. We're having a party on Jim's 60th birthday." exactly means the party is going to happen on the day of his birthday? For the third group, the two are same? – Austin Aug 18 '19 at 1:52
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"For" refers to the purpose. In the sentence, "I have to be at the doctors for 9 am appointment," states the purpose is to attend at that specific time because it has been assigned. In a way, this statement says the purpose of going is to take possession of the opportunity that that particular time slot brings; to fullfill an obligation. "I have to be at the doctors at 9," only refers to when one needs to be there.

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