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What is the difference between “except” and “except for?”

They all went home except me.
They all went home except for me.

Are the two sentences both correct? Are there any situations where I must use one or the other? Could native speakers please explain it to me? Thank you.

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    In examples like yours "except" takes either a for complement or an object. No difference in meaning..
    – BillJ
    Commented May 21 at 9:08
  • @BillJ Do you parse them differently? In my example sentence, is "except for Bob" a parenthetic remark and "except Bob" a modifier of "everyone"?
    – TimR
    Commented May 21 at 11:05

2 Answers 2

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except for can be used to mean "but for" I.e. "were it not for".

Except for the guard rail, the car would have gone off the road and down into the ravine.

except alone cannot be used in that construction:

Except the guard rail, ungrammatical the car would have gone off the road.

But when the meaning is "excluding" the two are interchangeable.

Everyone except (for) Bob has passed the swimming test. Bob, you must become a stronger swimmer if you want to be a lifeguard.

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"Except" can be followed by a noun phrase, an infinitive or a that-clause.
"Except for" can be followed only by a noun phrase.

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