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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?

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3 Answers 3

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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

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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
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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.

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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.

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