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The following sentence which have the same sentence construction, but why do the meanings of "for" in them vary?

  • The entrepreneur /has responsibility /for any risk involved.
  • He /has too much money/ for a young man.
  • I /have free advice /for you.
  • I /have two hours/ for a rest.
  • Many new trains /have space /for wheelchair users.
  • We /have no real, objective, scientific evidence /for our belief.

The sentences above have the same sentence construction, but the meaning of "for" in them vary. I don't know which part can decide the meaning of "for".

  • In Collins there are 21 definitions for for. Are you asking us to select the correct sense for each of your examples? – user3169 May 8 '14 at 4:38
  • @user3169 Of course, I am not asking you to select the correct meaning of "for" for each of my examples. I listed all these examples because I want to know why they have different meanings even though they have the same sentence construction. That's my point. – user48070 May 8 '14 at 6:27
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The use of prepositions is governed by the contexts in which they occur.

You are probably familiar with 'phrasal verbs', in which the meaning is non-compositional: this preposition with that verb has such-and-such meaning. Exactly the same thing is true of the prepositions employed with adjectives and nouns. In your examples, the 'meaning' of for is idiomatic, determined by the term which it modifies and which governs it:

responsible for ...
too much X for ...
advice for ...
time for ...
space for ... evidence for ...

There is no Why it means what it means, just How.

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The structure in question is not the macro structure of the sentence, but rather, the patterns to the left and right of the word "for".

  • Accountbility:
    The entrepreneur has responsibility ► any risk involved. ( ► = "for" )

  • Judgement of what can be expected for someone:
    He has too much money ► a young man.

  • Who is intended to have something.
    I have free advice ► you.

  • Purpose or function/ Also indicates purpose of time, money, or space or time
    I have two hours ► a rest.

  • Purpose or function / Also indicates purpose of time, money, or space or time
    Many new trains have space ► wheelchair users.

  • In support of somebody/something
    We have no real, objective, scientific evidence ► our belief.

This is similar to "operator overloading" in software programming:
Note that 5 + 2 = 7 but "Hello " + "world!" = "Hello world!". The meaning of the plus sign changes depending on what it is "given to it" (aka "context").


The question remains, "How does one go about learning these usages?" There must be some way to systematically analyze the left/right words in order to determine which meaning of "for" is being used. This is probably best answered by an ESL speaker who has mastered this usage. Please feel free to comment.

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