Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I read this sentence somewhere today, but I think that the of would fit better here than for, don't you think?

The cause for the original problem will be analysed in the normal maintenance hours.

I find myself sometimes thinking when I should use for and of and I cannot reach a conclusion. A few guidelines on this subject will be appreciated.

share|improve this question
1  
Please share whatever research effort you have already made so we do not waste effort. –  MετάEd Jul 30 '12 at 17:27
    
Looks fine to me. The preposition change just changes the meaning somewhat. –  American Luke Jul 30 '12 at 17:33
    
Could you tell me the meaning for one and for another ? –  utxeee Jul 30 '12 at 17:34
    
MetaEd, in my official language the translation of the preposition of make more sense to me than the use of prepositon for, but then I see other people use for instead of of. –  utxeee Jul 30 '12 at 17:35
    
What is your “official language”, and what does this mean? Is this a translation question? –  tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 18:09

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

This ngram would suggest that cause for is not as frequently used as "cause of". "Cause for" seems to mean "a valid reason for", as in "cause for alarm". "Cause of" implies a causal relationship, as in "this is the cause of that".

I personally can't think of many contexts where "cause for" would be appropriate other that "cause for alarm" and phrases similar to it. As Daniel says, similar phrases are "cause for concern", "cause for panic", etc

share|improve this answer
    
No, that's not what that NGram "would suggest." In fact, it shows the opposite. The fact that "cause of" beats it in usage doesn't mean that usage of "cause for" is negligible. Look at the values on the Y-axis and then compare them to some truly obscure phrases. –  Robusto Jul 30 '12 at 18:08
    
Ah, thanks. I've made the edit, and will be more careful next time. –  asymptotically Jul 30 '12 at 18:11
1  
That’s a cause for concern, not a cause of concern. –  tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 20:38

To my mind, cause for is only felicitous with positive outcomes:

His arrival was the cause for much rejoicing, great joy, unbridled celebration, ...

As opposed to:

His arrival was the cause for much handwringing, great panic, unbridled flight, ...

— all of which sound slightly odd and are improved, I feel, by use of of:

His arrival was the cause of much handwringing, great panic, unbridled flight.

That said, I’m not aware of much prescriptivist ink being spilled on this topic, so others may have a different impression of what constitutes standard usage.

share|improve this answer
1  
"Cause for alarm"? –  asymptotically Jul 30 '12 at 17:58
    
Gesplunn, indeed, you’re right: cause for alarm/panic/concern. Can you think of any others? I’ll add an edit when I come back... –  Daniel Harbour Jul 30 '12 at 18:07
    
"cause for lamentation" –  Peter Shor Jul 30 '12 at 19:54
    
cause for despair –  tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 20:39
    
I wonder would it be correct to substitute "cause" with "reason" in the "cause for alarm/panic/concern" = "reason for alarm/panic/concern –  user1425 Nov 16 at 13:04

Prepositions don’t necessarily translate one for one. It’s the problem’s cause, no matter which way you look at it.

Consider Latin casus belli. That might be translated at war’s case or case for war. Notice it is not case ∗of war.

Sometimes the English word for looks towards the future, and sometimes it looks towards the past. Here:

Ya ain’t got no cause for complainin’.

It’s looking towards the future, and is equivalent to cause to complain or cause for complaint.

But sometimes English for looks towards the past.

There’s gotta be a cause for this mess. This crap doesn’t happen by accident.

In that situation, for is looking in the past, and could be replaced with behind.

Other forward-looking examples of for include:

This present is for John.
This card is for taking out money from a bank.

Other backward-looking examples of for include:

I did it for my children.
I got four quarters for a dollar.

You have to translate by sense, not by exact word. Not all languages support a for preposition that has so many different senses as English does. Two such examples are Spanish and Portuguese, where you must always figure whether in any given phrase, for=por or for=para.

share|improve this answer
    
Hi tchrist, I'm portuguese thence all this confusion, but I still in doubt about my question, we should for or of ? –  utxeee Jul 30 '12 at 20:00
1  
I don't know if the following results are helpful for (or "to"?) you, however "the cause of the cardiac arrest" has 122,000 hits in Google, while "the cause for the cardiac arrest" has only 8 hits. @utxeee Hence, I would go with "of", but I'm not native of English language. –  user19148 Jul 30 '12 at 20:23
    
@utxeee That’s what I was thinking might be going on here. In that case, you would use de or por, not para here. It’s like when there’s a reason for something or other; you don’t use para there. The mapping between English and Portuguese is not one-to-one here. –  tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 20:36
2  
@Carlo_R: Those Google hits for cause of/for do indeed reflect overwhelming faithfulness to the idiomatic choice. Check "understand the cause of/for" in Google Books, and you'll find a few dozen "for", against hundreds of thousands of of's. You can bank that particular idiomatic usage (bank = add it to your acquisitions), and probably bank on the method to resolve questions about other usages (bank on = rely upon). –  FumbleFingers Jul 30 '12 at 22:22
1  
@Carlo_R. Although I may agree with you that of is fine in the given sentence, I'd be extra careful not to draw parallels between languages just because they share the same origins. I don't speak Portuguese and so I'm not capable of assessing the degree of similarity/difference between the prepositions utxeee mentions, but in Italian the expression "la causa per il problema" is not just unusual, it is completely wrong. –  Paola Jul 30 '12 at 22:34

Your Answer

 
discard

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.