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What is the difference between to and for in the following statements?

  • I am headed to the airport.

  • I am headed for the airport.

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No difference to speak of. – FumbleFingers Jan 24 '12 at 4:32
up vote 4 down vote accepted

The difference between heading to and heading for is subtle enough that you can use them interchangeably, yet I think there is a difference.

If you are heading to somewhere, you have a strong expectation of getting there promptly.

If you are heading for somewhere, you are going in that route, but there is some possibility of not reaching it, or making of stops along the way. An even less definite phrase is heading towards.

For example, imagine I was having a night on the town and a friend phoned to find out where I am. If I said:

"I'm at the bottom of town now, but I am heading to the top of town."

... then my friend would probably infer that he should meet me in a pub at the top of town. If I instead said:

"I'm at the bottom of town now, but I am heading for the top of town."

... then my friend is more likely to infer that he should meet me in some pub along that route.

There is an equally subtle difference between heading and headed. Once more, you can use them interchangeably, but heading is more active, and headed is more passive.

If you are the driver of a vehicle, or walking or running, you would be more likely to say heading.

If you are a passenger in a vehicle, or you're walking or running but you're following a leader rather than navigating yourself, you would be more likely to say headed.

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Native speakers are unlikely to say either. What you might hear is I’m heading for the airport now.

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What is the difference between "I am headed for" and "I am heading for"? – user17857 Jan 24 '12 at 7:11
@Mohammad: No difference in meaning, but they'll be used on different occasions. In most normal circumstances, 'heading for' is what you'll find. 'Headed' has a more technical sound to it, and might be heard more perhaps in a navigational environment. It's often difficult to understand such differences by considering the expressions in isolation. You need to hear or see them in context. – Barrie England Jan 24 '12 at 7:24
I'd say people are usually heading for x, while vehicles are headed for x (perhaps it was historically passive in the sense "directed towards", as in "the ship was headed towards the island by her captain"?). And something that is headed for a certain destination probably cannot as easily change course as a human being heading for the same destination. – Cerberus Jan 24 '12 at 8:06
I think heading is active, while headed is passive. If you are driving or walking, you are heading. If you are a passenger in a taxi, bus, boat etc. you are headed. But the question isn't asking this. – slim Jan 24 '12 at 10:51

Heading to somewhere is deliberate. It denotes an intended destination.

The plane is heading to Dubai.

Heading for somewhere is not always deliberate, and denotes a direction rather than a destination.

Oh, no! The plane is heading for those mountains!

You can also use "for" with the intended destination...

The plane is heading for Dubai.

...however, you can't always tell whether that really is the destination if you do that.

The plane is heading for Dubai at the moment, and will turn towards Cairo once it clears the English Channel.

Lots of people have given similar answers. Hopefully these examples illustrate the point in a way which clarifies any confusion.

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Are you diametrically on the other side to my view? :) – Kris Jan 24 '12 at 12:33
I merely provide examples and let them do the talking. It's possible though :) – Lunivore Jan 24 '12 at 12:46

There indeed seems a difference brought about by the preposition's meaning.

I am headed to the airport.

towards/ in the direction of -- not necessarily terminating at, [the airport]
When I am headed to the airport, I am proceeding in the direction of the airport. That I will eventually reach there is merely incidental, and not the import of my statement.

I am headed for the airport.

destined -- not necessarily in the direct way, to [the airport]
When I am headed for the airport, my objective is to reach the airport, my heading (orientation/ direction) not being the import of the statement. I might take a slightly circuitous route.

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I like your explanation ; ) – xtarsy Jan 24 '12 at 10:40
Odd, I think the difference is more or less the same, but the opposite way around. See my answer. – slim Jan 24 '12 at 11:45
The preposition you would use to mean you were headed in the direction of the airport is toward(s). – Peter Shor Jan 24 '12 at 12:13
@slim, I noticed the same. – Kris Jan 24 '12 at 12:26
@PeterShor Yes, I meant the use of to suggests toward(s). – Kris Jan 24 '12 at 12:30

I think there is some minor difference between the both.

But in most of the scenarios "I am headed to the airport" is the proper sign of good usage.

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What do you think are the minor differences? – Callithumpian Jan 24 '12 at 5:42

protected by tchrist Mar 4 '15 at 23:58

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