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What is the difference between “do good to others”, “do good for others” and “do good by others”? They appear the same to my non-native ears. There must be subtle differences between them.

I only find “do…..by” and "do......to" in dictionaries.

do by:

To behave with respect to; deal with:

https://www.thefreedictionary.com/do+by

do something to someone:

to treat someone in a way that harms them

https://www.macmillandictionary.com/dictionary/british/do-to

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Do good to others.

That means the others are directly receiving the good.

Do good for others.

The others may not be directly receiving the good.

Do good by others.

The others consider what you are doing to be good. Some people not included in "the others" may not consider what you're doing to be good.

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  • Yeah, I think it's important to distinguish that doing good by <other(s)> is judged by the notion of good to that third party, not necessarily generally being good. (So doing good by a thief might mean lying to the police, for instance, which isn't intrinsically a for the greater good of all action)
    – Smock
    Oct 9, 2019 at 12:45
  • I'm not sure I've ever heard "to do good by" somebody. "Do right by them" is a set phrase, but at least in the south-central US, I wouldn't say you can change the noun and still have a valid phrase. Aug 15 at 19:41
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Good question. You may find that some native speakers use these interchangeably.

Doing good to someone means that they are the direct recipient of the benefit of your action. For example, if someone is hungry and you give them something to eat.

Doing good for someone means that they are an indirect recipient of the benefit of your action. For example, if someone is hungry and you give money to a charity that provides food.

Doing good by somone means that their situation may be improved as a consequence of your actions (so your actions are guided by a respect for their situation). For example, knowing that someone is hungry you resolve not to waste food or to campaign for restaurants to provide surplus food to a charity.

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Giving food to the hungry is doing good to someone and giving money to a charitable institution with the hope that your money will be of some help to the hungry is doing good for the hungry and giving up a bad habit of indecently wasting food keeping in view the plight of the hungry and needy is doing good by someone.

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