I was shocked when my teacher told me that this sentence is wrong:

Do not congratulate him for his success.

Could anyone explain why we can't use for here? I know that on is another competitor. But both can be used interchangeably according to my knowledge. Please clear my doubt.


5 Answers 5


There's no difference in meaning, and no grammatical principle involved, but idiomatically we overwhelmingly favour on in most contexts. Thus...

I congratulate you on passing [your exams] - 895 instances in Google Books (for - 78)
We congratulate you on your triumph - 2330 instances (for - 3)

However, where the reason for congratulating someone is more about how they acted rather than what they achieved, that tendency is much reduced (or even disappears completely)...

I congratulate you on being so [honest] - 1550 instances (for - 939)
I congratulate you on working [so hard] - 81 instances (for - 445)

As is often the case where two or more prepositions can be used, native speakers differ in how they see things. Some consider all variants to be valid and equivalent in all contexts, some think that in any given context only one preposition is "correct", and a few may even think there's a difference in meaning.

Personally, I think in the case of congratulate on/for, it would be at least "acceptable" (if not "ideal") to use either preposition in any context. Neither is ever grammatically "wrong" in any meaningful sense.


The pros at ELU are of the opinion that either 'on' or 'for' can be used, but officially (at least, according to Oxford) there is a subtle distinction. To wit, one is congratulated on something, when something good has happened to the person, and one is congratulated for something when the person has made an achievement. The examples given are: congratulating someone on their marriage vs congratulating staff for all their hard work.

Edit: Some help for those that may need assistance with paraphrasing comprehension:

either 'on' or 'for' can be used - from the ELU link: "the verb congratulate collocates with both prepositions".

but officially there is a subtle distinction - ELU: "but the meaning is slightly different".

one is congratulated on something, when something good has happened - ELU: "you congratulate someone on something ... because something special or pleasant has happened to them".

one is congratulated for something when the person has made an achievement - ELU: "When you congratulate someone for something you praise them for an achievement".

The ELU answer then references NGram which I didn't mention but as this doesn't change the essence of the answer I fail to see how this represents inaccurate paraphrasing. Ditto with the summary sentence "... both sound natural to me".

As to the distinction, I didn't make it, I merely reported it (because I was accurately paraphrasing), however, if you read the linked page, you'll see:

give (someone) one’s good wishes when something special or pleasant has happened to them: he had taken the chance to congratulate him on his marriage

discretely followed by:

praise (someone) for an achievement: the operators are to be congratulated for the service that they provide.

Obviously, there is a large likelihood that good things will happen if one puts in enough effort, so whether you are congratulating somebody for their achievements, or congratulating them on their resulting success can be a matter of semantics, the result of which is either construct is readily acceptable in conversational English. (This bit is my addition)

  • 1
    Fair enough. I've reversed my previous downvote into an upvote. I still don't much like officially there is a subtle distinction - language is what we say, not what some "official" source says we should say. But approximately I agree with the "tendency" as set out in your final paragraph. Apr 18, 2013 at 12:15
  • hmmm, that didn't come across in your first comment (and would've saved me a twenty minute edit if i'd known that was all your problem was) - amended. So the paraphrasing is clear enough that i can revert my answer?
    – mcalex
    Apr 19, 2013 at 7:19
  • I don't really understand paraphrasing is clear enough that i can revert my answer. My substantive point is I'm uneasy about your officially there is a subtle distinction. I can't see anything in the oxforddictionaries link supporting that assertion, nor in the "real" OED (available free in the US next week). In short, the only exponent seems to be Irene on ELU, which hardly justifies upgrading a "usage tendency" to an "official distinction". Whatever - I've now cancelled my vote on your answer; let others vote as they will. Apr 19, 2013 at 20:21

You can say "congratulate somebody for" as in the following sentences:

We congratulate him for it, but we have some responsibilities, too, during the next four years

I want to congratulate him for getting so far in his career and working so hard to bring justice to Darfur.

You can also say "congratulate somebody on something," as in "I congratulated them on their success."


Here we use on because I am congratulated him on the occasion of his success. Not wishing for his success. Here we determine what values these sentences are giving. Such as I got first prise in my class my friend congratulate me on that occasion for my success.


I think we use "on" when it is followed by a noun.

For example:

John congratulated Maria on her success.

But we preferably use "for" when it is not succeeded by noun.

My father congratulated me for getting A grade in all subjects.

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