English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Holmes and Watson are alone in the room.

Holmes: I shall work better for silence.

Watson: Oh, well. I dare say I can find something quiet to do.

Does he mean he needs silence to work? And why does he use for? Isn't it right to say in silence?

share|improve this question
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Yes, he's saying he would work better if it were quiet. Nowadays I think you'd see "in silence". The example is a more archaic usage, but I believe it falls under this definition of "for":

Having (the thing mentioned) as a reason or cause ... I could dance and sing for joy

share|improve this answer
Surely in silence would mean Holmes saying nothing while Watson prattled: not what I understand by the quotation. – TimLymington Jun 18 '12 at 23:00
@TimLymington: I would interpret "I work better in silence" to mean "I work better when it's quiet" but I can see your interpretation as equally valid. – Lynn Jun 19 '12 at 17:10

Yes, it means that Holmes wants to work in silence. For is used here with the sense 'if there is'. For has many uses, of which this is just one.

share|improve this answer

In silence would mean 'without talking'; a teacher might instruct pupils to work in silence. Holmes means that he wants to work without anyone else talking. For here means 'in the condition'; I work better for knowing I am appreciated.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.