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I need to find a solution to/for this problem.

Can to and for be used interchangeably here? Is one of them just plain wrong?

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3 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted
  • I need to find a solution to this problem
  • I need to find a solution for this problem
  • I need to find a remedy for this problem

All three sentences are correct, although the second is less common. Usually, one will find that to is the preposition of choice for the word solution. However, for is preferred in certain cases, and I give two examples to illustrate this:

  • A bunch of students are working on a physics problem set in the common room. C and J are done with questions 1 through 4 and are currently working on 5. A just finished solving question 4 and wants to check her work with C and J: "Hey guys, could you show me your solution for number four? I'm not sure I did it correctly."

  • Joe had just bought a fridge for a dollar from an old lady down the road. Still unable to believe his luck, he wasted no time in setting it up in the corner of the hovel he shared with his brother, Alex. Only after plugging in the fridge did Joe realize that the door wouldn't close properly. He repeatedly slammed the door shut only to have it slowly creak open each time to his chagrin. "Hey, bro," Alex finally said, "calm down. Calm down!" He pulled out a crowbar. "There's a quick solution for this."

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I'm with Jimi here. 'For' sounds right in the examples, but I still don't know why. Interesting though! –  mvexel Mar 3 '11 at 7:19
    
@Jasper Loy: Alas, like @mvexel, I know not why. It just sounds/works better in these cases. –  Jimi Oke Mar 4 '11 at 1:08
    
@Jasper: Thanks a lot for the link! Definitely helps to know this! –  Jimi Oke Mar 5 '11 at 2:44
    
I wonder what Jasper said—sounds like it was of use. To me, the difference between a solution to a problem and a solution for a problem is that the latter indicates a possible, suggested solution (yet to be verified as something that truly solves the problem), while the former is a more definitely efficient solution—if applicable, the only possible solution. I’m not sure if this distinction is only in my head, or whether it always holds true, but it seems to me to work at least in the examples given here. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 26 '13 at 7:08
    
@Janus: Interesting comment. Unfortunately, I have no recollection of whatever Jasper said! It's been two long years :) –  Jimi Oke Sep 10 '13 at 2:13
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I would use 'to' exclusively. The problem has a solution, the solution belongs to the problem. I will find a solution to the problem for my boss, because that's what he pays me to do.

I will agree with both RGB and JasperLoy that if I heard "a solution for the problem" I wouldn't think it was necessarily incorrect, it just doesn't sound as good to me.

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As a native English speaker I regard to and for as interchangeable in the sentence you quoted. I would probably use for more often, but I wouldn't regard to as wrong.

Update: I searched the British National Corpus (BNC) at Brigham Young University (BYU). BYU-BNC found 1165 examples of "solution to" but only 208 examples of "solution for".

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Thanks RGB. Do you think there's a cultural preference for either in the UK or the US? –  mvexel Mar 2 '11 at 17:40
    
@mvexel: I tried to search the British National Corpus for "solution to" and "solution for". In both cases the response was "no solutions found for this query" (my emphasis) –  RedGrittyBrick Mar 3 '11 at 10:45
    
@RGB: that's hilarious. I did not know of this resource, thanks for pointing it out. –  mvexel Mar 3 '11 at 13:35
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