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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
  • 2
    I for one wouldn't say for = as is always used for complaining. The earth for my pillow... is usually a fairly "positive" turn of phrase, for example. Mar 13, 2016 at 20:51
  • I’m voting to close this question because it asking for a dictionary definition. Jul 8 at 12:40

5 Answers 5

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!

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  • 1
    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, 2016 at 2:31
  • 1
    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, 2016 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, 2016 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"

0

I think there is something inherently wrong with the question.

There is a reason why modern dictionaries increasingly opt for "used to...", "used when...", "if you..., you...":

the matter [singular]
used (to ask) if somebody is upset, unhappy, etc. or if there is a problem
What's the matter? Is there something wrong?
(source)

Most of the time a word does not function in isolation but as a part of a whole.

It is actually more precise not to try to precisely equate a word or expression with another word or expression, but rather define the situation in which it is used, the purpose for which it is used, the function it has.

Assuming the above:

For what something/someone (truly) is
is used to say that you are able to perceive and understand the true nature of someone or something. (source)

In the same vein, I would say:

have something for something
is used to say that something can be imagined as something else or would be more aptly described as something else
I have a sack of potatoes for a belly.
In this day and age we have blockheads for influencers and gurus.
(source: me)

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Webster's definition 2a. for

As being or constituting.

In your examples

I finally saw him as being what he [truly] was.

I have a sagging bag constituting [that constitutes] my belly.

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  • Quoting the dictionary is not an answer. If a question can be answered solely with a dictionary, it is off-topic.
    – Astralbee
    Jul 8 at 9:35
  • @Astralbee - The poster says they cannot find a suitable definition. I provided the suitable definition. Both of their examples show that they are confused over one specific definition and usage. Jul 8 at 12:39

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