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These are two usages of the preposition for for which I couldn't find a suitable definition. Maybe I should ask two separate questions, but since they are about two senses of the same word, I figured asking them in one post might be acceptable.
So, what does for mean in the sentences below? Are these standard usages of for?

1-

  • I finally saw him for what he was and broke up with him.
  • I know I have flaws, but why don't you accept me for what I am?

The only way I could make sense of them was by replacing "for what" with "as" (saw him as he (really) was -- accept me as I (actually) am). But what about "for" alone?

2-

  • It's too late to melt all this fat now. I've got a sagging bag for a belly, and I always will.
  • After I told her everything I realized I had a cheat for a friend.

My guess is, here "for" means "instead of" or "as". Am I right? Is this sense always used for complaining?

2

"as" has many meanings: you could reasonably use it in all of these sentences, but because it has such varied meanings it's not very useful for clarifying the meaning of other words. For the first two examples, you have to replace "for what" because "for" is a preposition and requires a relative pronoun ("what") to connect a clause, whereas "as" in this context is already a relative pronoun.

The first two examples are concerned about actual behaviour or characteristics. The best way to explain this meaning in other words (though less elegantly) would be to use the expression "as is"

I finally saw him as is and broke up with him.

I know I have flaws, but why don't you accept me as is?

"As I am" is certainly a more natural expression, but "as" is overloaded with meanings, whereas "as is" has a unique, precise meaning (see here, which is particularly appropriate for the this sentence.

In the third sentence, "for" is used in a figurative sense. You could use the word "like" but you have to change the word order.

It's too late to melt all this fat now. I've got a belly like a sagging bag, and I always will.

bag of bones is an example demonstrating that bag has a figurative meaning in a similar context.

In the final sentence the meaning is "in the role of", in the same way as you might say "Bernie Sanders for President".

After I told her everything I realized I had a cheat in the role of a friend.

Yes, these are all standard usages of "for" and there are many many more!

  • Thanks. But maybe your second example should be "accept me as (I) am"? And it looks strange to me that for could directly suggest a simile, the way like and as can. If you back that up with a source I will have learned a very useful thing from you. – Færd Mar 14 '16 at 2:31
  • i have updated the text to justify my use of "as is" and added a reference to demonstrate that "sagging bag" is a figurative usage. – JavaLatte Mar 14 '16 at 7:12
  • There are several other idiomatic and colloquial usages of "for" that don't fit the dictionary definitions. "shit for brains", which (curiously) is used as an adjective and various "take so.for st." phrases like "what kind of woman do you take me for?" and "take someone for granted". – JavaLatte Mar 14 '16 at 8:06
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to see sth for what it is

See DCE, to see, no. 21.

Link

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I finally saw him for what he was and broke up with him.

I know I have flaws, but why don't you accept me for what I am?

In these uses, "for" here means "just as" or "as". Yes, this is one of many standard ways to use "for".

I've got a sagging bag for a belly....

I realized I had a cheat for a friend.

In these uses, "for" here means "in place of" or "as". Yes, you are right, and this is one of many standard ways to use "for".

As for its use for (non)complaining, I can say "I have a best friend for a wife"-- and this meaning is still totally clear-- but if I want to tell you this it may feel a little more natural to say "I have a best friend as a wife"

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