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a. He looked at them to help him.

b. He looked to them to help him.

c. He looked at them for help.

d. He looked to them for help.

Which of the above sentences are grammatically correct?

Which are natural?

Many thanks.

2 Answers 2

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What is the meaning of your sentences? The verb look can function as a phrasal verb so the meaning is changed depending on the preposition.

look at someone​/​something means to direct your eyes towards someone or something so that you can see them. People looked at her in astonishment.

look to sb to do sth (phrasal verb) to hope that someone will do something for you: We're looking to you to advise us on how to proceed.

look to sb for sth (phrasal verb) to hope that someone will provide something for you: They looked to the government for additional support.

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They are all grammatical, and vary in naturalness, but there are two different meanings.

To look at somebody or something means literally to turn your eyes so that you are seeing that person or thing.

To look to somebody or something means to expect or ask for help or some other kind of contribution. To me it seems a rather literary expression, but it may be more natural for speakers of other varieties of English.

So look to them for help is more likely than look at them for help; but the latter is certainly possible, if the people are present together and something about the situation makes it clear that just a look is asking for help.

There is hardly any difference between for help and to help him in this context (though the latter is more specific that the help is to come to him: this is probably implicit in the former as well, though).

In other contexts (depending on the word that governs it) only one of these two might be grammatical, or they might have different meanings. For example I want to help him is grammatical (and means I want to give help, not receive it!) but I want for help is not. They are looking for help means they are looking for somebody to help them (they want to receive help), but They are looking to help him means that they intend or want to give help to him. These are properties of want and looking.

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