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I recently typed the following to a friend in an email:

Last night I went to the theatre to see a play with X. Before that, we went for dinner at a nearby pub for which my cousin came along.

Now is that the correct usage of 'for which', or should I have used 'which my cousin came along to'?

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8 Answers 8

This is correct. The "for which" is saying that the cousin came along for the dinner.

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I think it would be better if you suggested a particular rephrasing rather than just saying it should be rephrased. –  Mark Beadles Nov 4 '12 at 19:31
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@MarkBeadles But the rephrasing phrase (without the repeated for) is already in the question. –  Mr Lister Nov 4 '12 at 21:49
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It wasn't when I posted this. –  Ataraxia Nov 5 '12 at 4:14

Well, yes, you could conceivably say that, assuming that which refers back to dinner. More likely, however, would be something like . . . we went for dinner at a nearby pub when my cousin joined us.

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In the most obvious interpretation of this, you are saying that your cousin came along for a nearby pub, which doesn't make much sense.

I would have said something more along the lines of "to which my cousin came along," yes. As this phrase follows the noun pub, it will be hard to avoid a dangling modifier here.

This sentence could most accurately be phrased along the lines of "Before that, we had gone with my cousin to dinner at a nearby pub."

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Ahh, sorry; didn't see the "with X" part. Updated. –  Tortoise Nov 4 '12 at 23:57

There are two idioms involved here:

We went to dinner (at the pub). Our friends came to dinner here.
We went (to the pub) for dinner. We had our friends over for dinner.

So which idiom you use depends on what your cousin actually did. If she came in order to have dinner with you, use for. If she just joined you at the pub to enjoy your intellectually superior conversation, use to.

Formally, if you use the for construction it should be attached to dinner rather than pub:

We went for dinner, for which my cousin came along, at a nearby pub.

But conversation is not so exacting. And in fact, colloquially, what I've given you here are more ‘as-a-rule’ or ‘rule-of-thumb’ than Rules. Nobody will raise an eyebrow, or even notice, if you say “We had our friends over to dinner” or “We went to the pub to dinner”, any more than they'll snigger at your ending a sentence with a preposition. You often start a sentence going in one direction and end up going in another, and in conversation you don't get to go back and rewrite the beginning. You can of course in a email; but nobody† does. Nobody cares.


† Well, I do; but I’m a professional writer and have a reputation to prop up.

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I would avoid the "for which" entirely and opt for a more straightforward version of the story:

Last night I went to the theatre to see a play with X. Before that, my cousin joined us for dinner at a nearby pub.

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Excellent rephrasing. –  FumbleFingers Nov 4 '12 at 23:54

You might be over-thinking this. Simpler yet:

Last night I went to the theatre to see a play with X. Before that, we went for dinner at a nearby pub and my cousin came along.

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... Thanks for rationalizing that for us. We needed it. –  Tortoise Nov 5 '12 at 23:39

The "Before that, we went for dinner at a nearby pub for which my cousin came along" sentence should be reordered: "Before that, we went to a nearby pub for dinner, for which my cousin came along." That should solve the problem, but it does create another one: "...for dinner, for which..." So you can use "to which my cousin came", "which my cousin joined us for", "Before that, we went, with my cousin, to a nearby pub for dinner.", or "Before that, X, my cousin, and I went to a nearby pub for dinner."

Maybe Last night I went to the theatre to see a play with X should be reordered as well: "Last night, X and I went to the theatre to see a play."

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Why not make it simpler:

Last night I went to the theatre to see a play with X. Before that, we went for dinner with my cousin at a nearby pub.

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