Consider the following examples:

And yet, for a word spoken with kindness, I would have resigned the peacock's feather in my cap as the merest of baubles.

-- Thomas De Quincey, Confessions Of An English Opium Eater And Suspiria De Profundis

This is not right nor just: for surely a woman's affection

Is not a thing to be asked for, and had for only the asking.

-- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Miles Standish

Such is the order of things, and shady groves and cooling grots are abandoned for drawing rooms at ninety-six, and half-a-score sickly orange-trees tubbed on the top of a staircase.

-- Theodore Edward Hook, Humorous Works, Fashionable Parties

I'm not quite sure of what to make of the for in these sentences. Can I replace them with "instead of" without much change in meaning?

Please walk me through them one by one.

  • 1
    very quickly - 1) could be replaced with 'but for' or 'if not for' or even 'if it hadn't been for'. 2) 'asked for' as in 'requested' & 'had for' as in 'in exchange for merely asking'. 3) is again an exchange, abandoning the outdoors in favour of the [less attractive] indoors. Jan 9, 2015 at 17:23
  • BTW, what's meant by "resign" and "ninety-six, and half-a-score" here? @Tetsujin
    – Kinzle B
    Jan 10, 2015 at 3:11
  • I take "resign" to mean "give up". Not sure if the peacock feather is metaphorical. I take "at ninety-six, and a half-score" to be parts of two separate phrases. Half-a-score (10) orange trees is simple enough, but hard to tell about "ninety-six"—an address? an age? The "at" is puzzling. Jan 10, 2015 at 8:02
  • I'm pretty much with @BrianHitchcock on resigned, to give up, to relinquish. half a score has no confusion, of course, to a Brit, a score is 20. There's a quote [can't remember the ref] of the lifespan of man being 'three score and ten' i.e. 70. Ninety-six I would guess at address. It's a common-enough reference [though usually with some more context] in such as 'we're visiting the folks at ninety-six for Sunday lunch' etc Jan 10, 2015 at 10:31
  • Seems Dan has a different interpretation about Example 1. What to make of it? @Tetsujin
    – Kinzle B
    Jan 10, 2015 at 10:52

1 Answer 1


Your sense of "instead of" is close, in that in some of the examples "for" is used in a phrase to mean an exchange of two things. However, you can't literally replace "for" with "instead of" in the examples and have them mean the same thing. That would change their meanings, because when you say

I take the apple instead of the orange

you receive the apple, but in

I exchange the apple for the orange

you receive the orange.

Your first two examples are better understood by first putting the phrases back into a more normal word order.

Example 1

I would have resigned the peacock's feather in my cap as the merest of baubles for a word spoken with kindness.

This is easier to understand by taking the action mentioned and considering it as one unit:

I would have [performed that action] for a word spoken with kindness.

In this case, "for" means "in exchange for", like in the oranges and apples example. The intent would be to receive a kind word.

Example 2, first "for"

to ask for a woman's affection

In this case, "ask for" means "request", and the words "asked" and "for" are moved apart in the original sentence.

Example 2, second "for"

to have a woman's affection for only the asking

This is related, but slightly different: it means to be able to receive in exchange for only asking for it. If one has affection for only the asking, that means that if they ask for affection, then they will receive affection.

Example 3

[things] are abandoned for [stuff]

This is similar to "exchange for" in the sense that the unnamed persons are leaving the [things] and receiving the [stuff].

  • For Example 2, does "have a woman's affection for the asking" mean "get a woman's affection by asking"? @Dan
    – Kinzle B
    Jan 10, 2015 at 10:32
  • @KinzleB I edited my explanation slightly. Once again your idea is close, but not the same. Instead of meaning "get X by asking", it means "have the potential to get X by asking".
    – Dan Getz
    Jan 10, 2015 at 13:35
  • I'm with Dan on #1. "For", there, also signifies "in exchange for", which Dan tried to show by his equivalent rearrangement of the sentence. Jan 11, 2015 at 2:19

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