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I'm trying to wrap my mind around the semantic differences between the words "Register" and "Apply". For example, are there any real differences between these two sentences:

  • "I will apply for this event."
  • "I will register for this event."

What is the best way to think about the meanings between the two words?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

To apply sounds more of a one-off idea, with possibly some chance of rejection. To register sounds more of a permanent intention, with no chance of rejection.

Of course language being language allows for many possibilities in different contexts, so both could quite easily be synonyms in day to day language.

Hope this helps!

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Not sure one is more "one-off" than another, but Pro ingles is on the money on the key difference: when you apply you may be rejected, but when you register your acceptance is presupposed. Often you apply for or to a program, and then, later, if you are accepted, you register for it before attending, or register as you arrive. – Brian Donovan Jul 6 '14 at 23:51
Thanks Brian! Re the one off idea, I was thinking in terms of applying for jobs and registering for jobs, in this context at least. – Pro ingles Jul 6 '14 at 23:56
What about the [apply] button I am hinted to push, every time I modify a value in the Preferences of the Eclipse IDE? – Blessed Geek Jul 7 '14 at 2:18
This would be a different context to the one mentioned, this would be a synonym for action. – Pro ingles Jul 7 '14 at 2:30

The meanings are not simply semantically different, they are different words representing different concepts.

The register for an event implies the event is recording a list of people who have "registered", and who would be on a "register" of some kind. The register would be checked at some later stage to ensure that only those registered can proceed to the next stage. Register has a very specific meaning and not all events would offer "registration" as an option. If there is no "register" (as in a list), there can be no act of registration. I also disagree with some comments that registration necessarily comes after apply - you may register your interest in some future program, and apply for it when it becomes available. However in all cases, registration is about getting your name on a list to support some kind of future progression or action.

Apply has a much more general meaning. You can apply for a loan, and you may get an answer immediately or after some time. However it does not mean there is a "register" of names of people applying for the loan (each application may go into a different persons email box for individual consideration).

Because "apply" is so general, sometimes they can even be the same thing "Apply now to register your interest and we will contact you when it becomes available".

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