I'm going to buy a ball for you.

I have two explanations of this sentence:

(1) I will help you to buy a ball. You don't have to buy it.

(2) I will buy a ball. The ball is for you. (means: I will give the ball to you.)

I can't figure out its authentic meaning.

  • It could mean either; but the 'default' reading would be 2. 1 would be understood only if there had been prior discussion about your difficulty buying the ball - perhaps because the store closes before you get off work, or you don't have a credit card with which to buy it online. Apr 30, 2014 at 2:13
  • For (1) it would be more natural to say "I will help you buy a ball."
    – user3169
    Apr 30, 2014 at 2:37
  • It could mean either. "for" can be a bit imprecise sometimes. Apr 30, 2014 at 3:44

1 Answer 1


This is ambiguous to native speakers and, indeed, the source of endless interpersonal drama among English speakers.

"Do you have the money for the milk I got you on Monday?"

"Wait, I thought you said you were buying that for me?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa! I said I'd buy it, since I was stopping by the store anyways, but I didn't mean I would pay for it!"

(Not a fictional example, alas.)

Also, allow me to add that I have as of yet been unable to find a way of disambiguating that expression that's sufficiently diplomatic as to not cause one party or the other to lose face.

This is perhaps why there's an idiomatic expression "I'll cover that for you" which unambiguously means that I will fund the purchase of something for you. Also "I'll cover you."

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