I was studying the difference between "except" and "except for" and noticed that in different sources they use them interchangeably in similar examples.

  1. "Everyone was tired except for John."

  2. "Everyone was ready except John."

  3. "Except for Louisa, who away in Berlin this weekend, we'll all be at the party."

  4. "We all went except Tom."

If "except for" is used when what is excluded is different from what is included then why don't they use "for" in sentences #2 and #4?

But in #4 it is required. Perhaps it's according to this definition: "If "except for" is used when what is excluded is different from what is included." As in Louisa is different by not being with the group.


2 Answers 2


In all four of your examples, "for" is optional in normal usage.

In spoken English, it would commonly be dropped, whereas in formal written English it is slightly more likely to be retained, but no-one is likely to misunderstand either way.


We often include the preposition for after except when it's used in the not including sense. Note that we rarely do this with excepting (an alternative form1 that's becoming less common over time).

It's largely just a stylistic choice, but the main factor affecting whether we include for or not is the "distance" between the actual word except and that part of the text identifying the cases that aren't being excepted. In OP's example #4, that's the word all, which is only separated from except by the single-word verb went.

In effect, including for is a courtesy to the reader, to help him parse the text. When the reader encounters except, he knows he'll have to link this to two different noun phrases (the "excepted", and the "non-excepted"). The presence of that optional preposition (before the "excepted" identifier) can often serve as a gentle "nudge" to the reader to pay slightly more attention, because the "non-excepted" category isn't necessarily "nearby" in the text.

In OP's example #3, there's quite a bit of text between except and the "non-excepted" category it references (all), which is why most people would be much more likely to include for there, whereas they wouldn't do this with example #4.

EDIT: In a comment below, OP asks why his unspecified source says Both [including "for" or not] are correct after a noun. I assume the reason "noun" is specifically mentioned there is because of examples like Her face is attractive except for an unsightly mole. Regardless of whether we think of the "non-excepted" element as being the entire 4-word assertion, or just the adjective attractive, it's obviously not a noun. And in that context, you must include the preposition for.

1 I don't recommend learners using excepting (it's a bit dated / stilted) themselves in these contexts, but here's an NGram link to several written examples of We all went excepting [whoever didn't go].

  • 1
    I don't know where you got that "Both are correct after a noun" from, but it's inspired me to add an extra section to my answer, which I hope will enlighten you. Obviously in I like all fruit except (for) oranges, the word except comes AFTER the NOUN PHRASE all fruit. And for an example like that, your source is quite correct in saying that the sentence is valid with or without the word for. Which is NOT the case with Her face is attractive except for an unsightly mole (where you can't validly omit for AFTER an ADJECTIVE). Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 12:44
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    You're definitely right about that "distance" business. And rephrasing is an excellent approach in such contexts - it forces you to juggle with the concepts until you have a clear understanding, and it provides "verifiable" evidence for someone like me to be able to confidently say Yes, you've got it! As to that "when what is excluded is different from what is included", I'm not sure exactly how to interpret that. Obviously my "unsightly mole" is "different" because it's a noun being "singled out" from a "not excluded" context that isn't even a noun in the first place... Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 17:11
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    ....so maybe that's all it means ("different" = "different part of speech"). It's not obvious to me that for is "mandatory" in, say, All the city's inhabitants were evacuated except [for] the extraterrestrials. But surely the implication there is humans were evacuated, but not aliens - even though they're extremely different. So unless someone else has any different opinions, I'm going to say the only principle is a matter of when the "included" and the "excluded" are "far apart" (in terms of "intervening text" and/or different syntactic functions). Commented Feb 4, 2021 at 17:18
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    I don't have access to The Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English, but if you think it's telling you that for is "mandatory" in my "extraterrestrials" example, I'd be pretty sure you've misunderstood what they're saying. Or I suppose it's feasible they have made a mistake. I certainly haven't! :) Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 12:27
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    ...where my concept of "separate" includes examples like #1 Except for John, everyone is ready. Native speakers would normally include for there, even though they usually wouldn't with the "natural sequence" version #2 Everyone is ready except John. That's because the non-standard sequence #1 "prioritises" the task of figuring out what the two referents of except are going to be (initially we don't know either of them). Since the only thing we know at first is "two different things are going to be introduced soon", fronting tends to amplify that difference. Commented Feb 5, 2021 at 15:20

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