Are there certain situations where "for" and "of" may be used interchangeably and still "sound" grammatically correct? Take this for example:

With regard to the tribe of (or for) the men that do the plaiting, the hairstyle is referred to as Masai.

Is there an explicit rule,something clear cut like the a/an situation, on when to use "of" and "for"?


There are sentences where they could both be used, but (at least in examples I can think of) they'd have slightly different meanings, and thus can never be used interchangeably.

For example "Group of men" would be a gathering where all those present are men. "Group for men" would be some kind of organized club specifically designed for men. A woman could walk over and join the group of men, but probably couldn't join the group for men.

In another example, if I have a "cup of pens" on my desk, it is just a regular cup that happens to contain pens. Maybe before it was a cup of water, and I needed someplace to put my pens so I used it. If I have a "cup for pens" the cup is there for the specific purpose of being full of pens, and I would not put other things in it.

  • With all that said, which one applies to the example I have given (keeping in mind that it's not a 'men only' tribe) ? – Jabbie Jan 30 '16 at 13:28
  • Honestly, I don't quite understand what your example sentence is trying to say, (maybe it makes sense in context?) so it might have issues deeper than of/for, but if it isn't a "men only" tribe, I'd use "of". – Sarah Jan 30 '16 at 18:44
  • Let me break it down . A couple of men from a tribe known as Masai plait women. The kind of hairstyle they specialise in is referred to as Masai, (same names). – Jabbie Jan 30 '16 at 19:37
  • Yes, I would use of. And I do finally understand the sentence now, but I never would have guessed that meaning from the initial sentence. I would consider rephrasing as something like "The hairstyle is known as the Masai, in reference to the tribe of men who do the plaiting." – Sarah Feb 1 '16 at 18:58
  • Much appreciated! – Jabbie Feb 1 '16 at 19:08

For and of are hard to define. But they are not interchangeable.

X of Y generally means Y forms X, Y makes X, or Y belongs to X.

X for Y generally means Y is the purpose, destination, or goal of X, or as Google puts it, "the object or recipient of a perception, desire, or activity." Y is not necessarily a part of X.

Tribe of men - There are men and together they form a tribe

Tribe for men - A tribe exists and it's purpose is to serve men in some way.


I would rephrase this sentence to say,

"Out of respect for the tribe of men who do the plaiting, the hairstyle is referred to as 'Masai.'"

As Sarah noted in her answer, "of" and "for" cannot be freely interchanged, nor do they mean the same thing. Her examples are very helpful. Please explore the difference further by looking each word up online. You can do a Google search for,

"What is the definition of 'for'?"


"What is the definition of 'of'?"

to get additional information about the two words.

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