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I'm confused about the following examples that Cambridge Dictionary gives:

Formulating new strategies is essential for preparing the corporation to meet and sustain future needs.

uses the pattern something is essential for something, and

Knowledge, skills, and creativity are essential to creating high-value products.

uses the pattern something is essential to do something.

I guess both "to" and "for" above function as prepositions. Does that mean it's still grammatical and natural when I use those interchangeably?

For example,

Formulating new strategies is essential to preparing the corporation to meet and sustain future needs.

Knowledge, skills, and creativity are essential for creating high-value products.

I'm aware those are different from

It is essential to research and protect your patent.

which is similar to the pattern it is important to know …

However, I can't tell the reason under the hood. Could someone give me a hint?

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  • Splitting hairs I suspect. All of your examples seem fine to me and mean the same. It would seem that essential for+creating, and essential to+creating are both possible. There are many examples of each, and both are pretty close number-wise in terms of usage. see google ngram viewer
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 10, 2022 at 14:40

1 Answer 1

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My understanding of the general rule (there will be exceptions) is as follows:

  1. You can use either "essential for" or "essential to" if it is followed by a noun
  2. You use "essential for" if it is followed by a gerund ("ing") form of a verb
  3. You use "essential to" if it is followed by a verb.

Examples:

  1. Books are essential for/to education (noun)
  2. Books are essential for educating students (gerund)
  3. Books are essential to educate students (verb)

Unfortunately, I have to disagree with the example in the Cambridge dictionary as I would have said "Knowledge, skills, and creativity are essential to create high-value products".

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  • While I agree with your general rules, you are right that there can be exceptions. I think this may be a case of common usage rather than any specific grammar rule. Google ngram shows that both are in use. Essential to create is more common though. With "essential to create", this could be because the "to" in "essential to" could be viewed as a preposition rather than an infinitive marker.
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 15, 2023 at 10:25

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