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a. I don't read poems for grammatical correctness. I read them for pleasure.

I know the sentences are correct, but I can't figure out what the first 'for' means. When I read poems for pleasure, I seek to get pleasure from them. But I can't get 'grammatical correctness' from poems!

Does the first 'for' mean the same as the second one?

Maybe both are the same as the for in 'looking for something'?

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    The preposition "for" has many meanings. Wiktionary gives 27 of them. Have you consulted a dictionary to look for definitions that apply?
    – Wastrel
    Nov 23, 2023 at 14:38

5 Answers 5

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for introduces an end-purpose, goal, or aim: "I go shopping for food." "I hike in the woods for some peace and quiet".

But it's not at all clear what the first phrase introduced by "for" means, as "grammatical correctness" isn't a purpose of reading. It isn't a purpose of anything, except perhaps a software package or a human proofeader checking a text: "I use ______ for grammatical correctness." but even that is somewhat elliptical.

The first sentence in the question could be taken to mean "I don't really care about a poem's grammaticality and don't try to parse the syntax; I simply enjoy the rhythms and the sounds and imagery". That's an interpretive leap the listener might make. It's plausible. But the sentence is too elliptical to know for sure how to interpret it. It could mean, "I don't read poems to learn how to speak grammatically" or even "I don't expect poems to be grammatical" or even "The syntax of poems, even when they are grammatical, is often so convoluted that it's a bother to even try to parse them."

P.S. A person might say of a noisy bar: "I don't come here for conversation. I come here for the cheap beer." There, both "conversation" and "cheap beer" might be valid reasons for choosing a particular bar. But what would it mean if that person said "I don't come here for grammatical correctness. I come here for the cheap beer"? You might concoct some explanation, like "Hmmmm. Grammar. Speech. Some of the people here do speak non-standard English, so maybe it means 'I'm not here to learn English'. But maybe it means 'I'm not here to give people lessons in grammar'. One or the other might be reasonable, and might even be the correct interpretation. But they're just a reasonable guess because the first sentence is not at all clear.

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    I go shopping for grammatically correct sentences! I'm hoping for at least 2000 grammatically correct sentences per 10€ book. Poetry books don't have a very good grammatically correct sentences per euro ratio, imho.
    – Stef
    Nov 23, 2023 at 15:12
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    @Stef: You're reading the wrong poets then ;-)
    – TimR
    Nov 23, 2023 at 16:03
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    @Stef For example, here's a poem that stands at the interface of grammatical order and syntactic chaos: genius.com/Ted-hughes-the-hawk-in-the-rain-annotated
    – TimR
    Nov 24, 2023 at 11:54
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    exactly! This poem has like only three sentences in a whole page!
    – Stef
    Nov 24, 2023 at 13:24
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    It is however a far cry grammatically from e.e. cummings's "anyone lived in a pretty how town".
    – TimR
    Nov 24, 2023 at 14:56
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The first sentence is using "for grammatical correctness" loosely. It should be understood to mean something like "for the purpose of investigating the notion of grammatical correctness in a language". Though this might not be the only way of interpreting it, there is a good degree of flexibility in the language.

The idea of "reading for X" is that you will get "X" from reading, so if you are reading for correctness, you will learn what is correct by reading.

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    How do you know it means "for the purpose of investigating the notion of grammatical correcness"? That's not an entirely implausible reading, true, but it's certainly not the only way to try to make sense of something so elliptical.
    – TimR
    Nov 23, 2023 at 10:50
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    I've edited to address your concerns @timr
    – James K
    Nov 23, 2023 at 18:26
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    @TimR The myriad ways in which it was interpreted all boil down to mostly the same thing as far as the actual question being asked is concerned. It's just significantly harder to read an answer that stays generalized, compared to an answer that uses a more concrete example to get the point across (even if that example is not the only possible example that could have been used).
    – Flater
    Nov 24, 2023 at 3:19
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I personally interpret the sentences in a similar way to "look in something for". The phrase "look in something for" is most often use as meaning opening a container and attempting to find a specific object within:

I looked in the glove box for my sunglasses.

She looked in her purse for her keys.

He looked in the nest for baby birds.

The "for" in each case expresses the object which is the purpose of the looking. There is an implication that there's some larger reason for you looking, but not necessarily what that reason is (e.g. why you are looking for that object). In some cases, simply confirming the presence of the object in the container is the purpose. You might not even need to extract that object from the container.

"Look in" is not unique in this respect. "Look at", "examine", "search", etc. all can take "for noun" as a modifier, where "noun" is the object (thing or abstract concept) which prompted the search.

I would interpret the two clauses with "read" in the same way. "I read poems for grammatical correctness" to me implies that "grammatical correctness" is a thing which the "container" of the poems contain, and one is looking within the poem to locate it. (Why one might be looking for grammatical correctness is left unsaid but unneeded - the implication is that the poems don't contain it, regardless of the "why"). With this interpretation, "I don't read poems for grammatical correctness" parallels "I don't look in nests for baby birds."

Personally, I interpret "I read poems for pleasure" as even more a metaphor. The poem doesn't actually contain the pleasure. The pleasure is generated purely on the reader's side in the process of reading. But after reading it effectively looks like the reader has opened the container of the book, and found a "pleasure" object within.

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In one possible reading, “for” means “in order to find or get,” similar to reading a passage for its meaning, reading for comprehension, asking for information, working for money or shopping for milk.

Another possible reading is “because of, for the sake of,” similar to reading a book for a course, reading one for its historical value, or marrying for love.

Whichever it is, the author presumably chose “for” in both clauses for (the sake of a) parallel construction.

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    You were late with your grammar homework and as correction your stern English teacher assigned you to proofread and correct for grammar usage the first twenty verses in the poetry book she handed you - early tomorrow now! That tends to reduce what pleasure you gain by that particular poetry reading exercise.
    – civitas
    Nov 24, 2023 at 15:47
  • @civitas Good one. One that’s less contrived: Latin teachers often assign Caesar’s Gallic Wars for its grammar, because it makes a good introductory example of Latin writing. Not many people read it in the original Latin for pleasure!
    – Davislor
    Nov 24, 2023 at 15:52
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I mean what they wanted to express with that sentence was clearly "I don't mind if poems are not grammatically correct".

But likely they already had the 2nd sentence lingering in their head "I read them for pleasure" and so they tried for the poetic approach of making these sentences more similar to increase the emphasize on the difference between them (not grammatically correct, but pleasure). So even though "for grammatical correctness" doesn't really make much sense as you can't get grammatical correctness from poems the same way you can get pleasure from them, that really doesn't matter as they are negating that anyway. So similarly to a poem, the structure and semantics may be bend a little to achieve a particular effect.

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    Do you mean "I don't care for" (=I dislike it), or "I don't care about" (=I don't mind if it's not there)?
    – psmears
    Nov 23, 2023 at 16:42
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    The latter. I think a certain level of grammatical correctness is inevitable in order to be able to comprehend a poem, but if the emphasize is put on pleasure it probably won't go way beyond that.
    – haxor789
    Nov 23, 2023 at 18:03
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    OK - probably worth editing your answer accordingly :)
    – psmears
    Nov 23, 2023 at 18:44

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