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I am trying to figure out the correct usage of "made for". Suppose human error caused an accident:

  1. Human error led to the accident.
  2. Human error made for the accident.

Is this usage of "make for" okay?

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We use "make for" to tally the factors that brought about a quality, desirable or otherwise, but not an event as such.

For example:

Good friends, good food and great weather made for a fabulous picnic.

Here the three factors listed all conspired to bring about a "fabulous" picnic. The focus here is "what kind of picnic" and not the "picnic" per se.

The speaker's shrill voice, coupled with the most boring subject matter imaginable, made for the worst lecture I've ever attended.

Of your examples, only (1) correct, since (2) isn't idiomatic. In such cases, it's better to use "lead to" or "cause" or "bring about."

  • +1 because I agree the substantive point (OP's example #2 isn't idiomatic). But I don't really have a problem with The combination of the holiday, parties, command inertia and undermanned command posts and the fact that few harbor craft actually were on station to set out for an emergency on Christmas Eve made for a disaster., so I'm not convinced your "quality, not event" rationale properly explains the idiomatic preference. – FumbleFingers Jul 29 '14 at 14:12
  • I see your point, however is this an actual disaster or are they using "disaster" figuratively to describe the unnamed, unspecified event. My reasoning is that if you were to replace "disaster" with the actual event, say "an ambush" - it doesn't really work. Which brings us back to the "quality" question. – CocoPop Jul 29 '14 at 14:44
  • I think fairly obviously a disaster refers to a specific event there, just as "Goodwill on all sides made for a successful outcome" (or just "...made for [a] success", which I find just about tolerable with or without the article). Yes, in practice whatever was "made for" will often be some "event" specifically qualified by a positive or negative adjective - which adjective wouldn't have applied had the contributing factor(s) not led to that particular outcome. But an "outcome" is essentially an event or object, not a quality of whatever result was encouraged by those factors. – FumbleFingers Jul 29 '14 at 15:02
  • Then why doesn't (2) work? By your reasoning, the "accident" is an event and it should be admissible in that sentence. In your last response you cited "a successful outcome, or just: a success." Here "a success" works figuratively like "a disaster" - a representative noun used to sum up the quality of the event without naming the event outright. When the event is named, it must be modified for "make for" to be idiomatic. For example, I think (2) wouldn't be so jarring if it read: Human error made for an unfortunate accident. – CocoPop Jul 29 '14 at 15:17
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    I think I have it. In this usage, "make for" doesn't account for the event or result or its cause, it accounts for it's outcome/quality. The event itself is randomized (hence the indefinite) and the focus is on the outcome in terms of a quality. Thus is it more copular in nature than transitive, i.e. it effectively paraphrases (due to such-and-such factor(s)), the [noun] was [adj], where the adj is focal. What do you think? – CocoPop Jul 29 '14 at 16:34

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