I have read a sentence :

I memorize a sentence word for word.

I wonder: what's the difference between "word by word" and "word for word" ? Why use "for"? What's the meaning of "for" here?

  • 3
    You might want to check out this ELU answer to a similar question there. In your example context, you could perhaps think of for as meaning corresponding to, matching (each "input" word which you commit to memory matches an "output" word which you retrieve from memory later). By contrast, by in such constructions has more the sense of after, following (after memorizing one word, you move on to memorizing the next word). May 20, 2014 at 16:08

1 Answer 1


Word for word means you've committed it to memory exactly. If you recite it, every single word will be exactly correct, the same as the words you read earlier. This phrase is about accuracy.

Word by word means that you memorized it one word at a time. It's more about the method you used while memorizing than the accuracy of the result.

  • Yes. To be clear: you will never hear a native English speaker say they memorised something "word by word" (but that's what it would mean: you memorised one word, then memorised the next word, etc).
    – MGOwen
    May 21, 2014 at 3:31

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