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Suppose Jason were at home and a mail carrier came to his front door with a letter addressed to Jason. Which of the following is correct?

  1. It was a letter for Jason.
  2. It was a letter to Jason.
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4 Answers 4

What a great question! The answer is (1) A letter for Jason.

One writes a letter to someone. Having been written, the letter is a letter for that person. So the mail carrier would be at the door with a letter to Jason only if s/he had written said letter.

To take another example: The person who used to live in my apartment has moved to a different apartment down the hall. However, she has not updated her address with the post office. Consequently, a lot of letters for her end up being delivered to my place. I am considering writing a letter to her asking her to fill out a change-of-address form at the post office.

The difference lies in the role played by the person getting the letter. A letter is written to an addressee. It is intended for a recipient. For the person writing the letter, Jason is the addressee, so the person is writing to Jason. For anybody else involved in getting the letter into Jason's hand, Jason is the recipient, so from this point of view, the letter is for Jason.

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Upvoted for good comparison. –  Epitorial Feb 4 '13 at 9:17

Both are acceptable; there is little difference in meaning.

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@tchrist Is it acceptable to edit according to personal style and preference rather than correcting mistakes or editing for clarity? There was nothing wrong with my original sentence, I am quite capable of deciding whether to use a comma or semicolon. Please don't quote me any semicolon rules. –  Mynamite Feb 4 '13 at 2:02
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What you wrote was a comma splice, I won’t quote you semicolon rules, the correction improved the site. –  tchrist Feb 4 '13 at 2:36
    
@Mynamite: It pisses me off too when someone decides that their understanding of grammar is better than mine, but sometimes, you know, it is, & I've been teaching grammar at the university level for 40 years. I agree with tchrist in this case. Your comma splice was ungrammatical; his edit improved your answer; and, yes, it is acceptable to edit answers when they're grammatically incorrect. I would have used a colon or a period, but there's nothing wrong with a semicolon. Comma splices are okay only for dialogue. I don't like them even there, but speech is often ungrammatical. –  user21497 Feb 4 '13 at 6:38
    
Speaking as someone who quite often types comma splices in haste, I have to agree with tchrist's edit too. I think a degree of haste resulting in typos is reasonable with the way this site works, and it would be unreasonable to comment criticising someone for such a mistake, but tchrist is certainly welcome to correct any comma splices he might find in my answers, and I'll be grateful. –  Jon Hanna Feb 4 '13 at 12:05

I would say that "It is a letter for Jason". The preposition used in these two sentences doesn't necessarily change the meaning.

The mail carrier most likely doesn't know what's in the letter, and neither do I; therefore, for us, both of these sentences are essentially the same.

Even though the letter is addressed to Jason, it might contain something intended for someone else. In this case, the preposition used changes the meaning based on a knowledge of the content of the letter.

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Suppose letter is a postcard and it contains nothing except for words written on it. Would you prefer 'to' over 'for' in this case? –  Dilawar Feb 4 '13 at 7:06

They would be used in different contexts. It was a letter for Jason might be given as a reply to the question What was that you put on the table this morning? It was a letter to Jason, however, might answer the question What upset you last night? (Those examples illustrate the point, but in practice they would probably be framed slightly differently.)

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