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I am not sure when to choose X with a purpose or X for a purpose.

For example, when describing serious games, I don't know which one of the two following options I should use:

  • games with educational purposes
  • games for educational purposes

I am aware of Is there a difference between “for this purpose” and “to this purpose”?, but I feel it addresses a different situation.

I also wonder without the singular form is acceptable as well:

  • games with an educational purpose
  • games for an educational purpose
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I think which one you use depends on what you are trying to say. In other words, it's context-dependent.

Neither:

a game with an educational purpose

nor:

a game for an educational purpose

is a complete sentence, so it's impossible to say which one should be used.

The preposition with means you are talking about something instrinsic to the game; for example:

Monopoly is a game with an educational purpose. It teaches young children how to make change.

while the preposition for is used when describing a reason for doing something:

The teacher let his students play Monopoly for an educational purpose; he wanted them to practice making change.

Neither of those sentences is incorrect, or better than the other. One is talking about the game itself; the other is explaining why a teacher used a game during class time. The two very different situations each work better with a different, more suitable preposition.


Incidentally, I noticed a lot of your recent questions tend to go something like this:

Which is better: This with X, or That with X?

where you are actually using letters like X & Y in your question titles. Such questions are often difficult to answer because the answer may change depending on what X is – as happened in this question. So, please remember, English rarely works like algebra, and getting the right wording is rarely as formulaic as an algebraic function.

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  • Thanks, no worries, I'm not expecting that English works like algebra :) I am trying to understand nuances, like the one you have described in this answer. – Franck Dernoncourt Feb 23 '16 at 22:31
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Generally, something can be done "for a purpose", but a thing has a purpose - so I'd use "with" here.

What you're possibly getting at is this essay, titled "The effectiveness of games for educational purposes" (and even if not, it's a good example of a difference).

It's kind of hard to explain, but in this case "for educational purposes" refers more to "effectiveness". "The effectiveness of games with educational purposes" would mean "how effective are games which have an educational purpose" - but we don't know what they're effective for. "The effectiveness of games for educational purposes", on the other hand, means "how effective are games when used for educational purposes".

Still, in this case, the games might not even have an educational purpose by themselves, but they're used for educational purposes by whoever did the study.

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It's a fine shade of meaning. I'd say that games with an educational purpose are games that are designed (or marketed) with an educational purpose in mind, whereas games for an educational purpose are games which might be suitable for use in pedagogical contexts.

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To say "games with (an) educational purpose" is to say that education is ONE purpose of the game, but not necessarily the only purpose. On the other hand, saying "games for (an) educational purpose" means that it is THE purpose of the game; there is no other. In the latter case, the "game" aspect (ie the fun-factor) is only a vehicle to accomplish the educational purpose. On the other end of the educational spectrum are games designed purely for entertainment (without an educational purpose), which nevertheless have an incidental educational EFFECT.

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