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I have a silly question that's been stuck in my head for a little bit. There was a movie that came out a little while ago called, "Heaven is for real" ... and something about the word "for" in that title bothered me. I've heard the expression several more times about something being "for real" vs just "real" .... what is the point of the word "for" in that context?

Something about the usage of the words "for real" makes me feel like the phrase is trying to convince me (in kind of a common folksy kind of way, almost childlike way) that I should be convinced of somethings "realness". (You might disagree with this...) but some part of me feels like that using the word "for" in "X is for real" is an attempt to manipulate the listener into validating the claim. Is that unfair?

I guess my questions are: What is the proper grammar concerning "X is for real" vs "X is real" ??? And my second question is what is your interpretation of the word "for" in the term "X is for real"... why use the word "for" in that context?

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    I think you're right: it is an expression associated with childish speech, and used more or less consciously for that connotation. In structure, it is similar to for fun, but fun is a noun, not an adjective (it has limited adjectival use), so it's not quite parallel.
    – Colin Fine
    May 16, 2014 at 15:22
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    "for real" is also used to mean the opposite of "for practice", "for testing", etc. May 16, 2014 at 15:41
  • I think you're spot-on. Children use this phrase, and the movie/book is based on what a child (supposedly) said. @TheBlueDog - anger management courses are really fun. It's amazing how they take down the rage... May 16, 2014 at 17:55

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For real indeed has a kind of slangy/childish connotation, which I'm sure is why it was used in the title of that movie (a quick Google search reveals that the film is about a four-year-old who has a near-death experience).

However, it also does not mean the same thing as real: if something is real, it exists, while if something is for real, it is legitimate.

Merriam-Webster backs up this adjectival sense of for real (definition 3.2 and 3.3 at that link):

2: genuine "couldn't believe the threats were for real"

3: genuinely good or capable of success "not yet sure if this team is for real"

To be fair, that dictionary also gives genuine as one definition of just plain "real", but I do think that "for real" is much more about legitimacy than "real", to the point that there is a definite difference in meaning. Consider the following examples (mine, this time):

A: I don't think this pizza is real.

B: I don't think this pizza is for real.

If I were looking at a plastic replica of a pizza, I could say A but not B. In contrast, if I had just been given a pizza that I was told was from a famous restaurant, but in fact looked very unappetizing, I could say B but not A.

Of course I contrived that example to demonstrate the difference in meaning. To return to your original question, Heaven is real and Heaven is for real do indeed mean pretty much the same thing. But my point was to show that real and for real are not always interchangeable.

As for the grammar part of your question, I don't think for real is grammatically remarkable - there are other structures of the form "[Noun] is for [adjective]", e.g. This coffee is for free.

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    +1 for legitimate. When someone asks me Are you for real? they are obviously not asking if I am actually real.
    – Frank
    May 16, 2014 at 15:52
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    For real can also be used in contexts where it means serious (as opposed to either or both senses - flippant, in jest and inconsequential, trivial). May 16, 2014 at 16:14
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    @Greg I drunk eight bottles of vodka last night Are you for real? No, I'm joking, it was ten. Change for real to serious and there you have it.
    – Frank
    May 16, 2014 at 16:34
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    @Frank "I drank" not "I drunk".
    – Doc
    May 16, 2014 at 17:50
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    @Doc After ten bottles of vodka I think one can be excused for a little grammar slippage. ;)
    – Frank
    May 16, 2014 at 18:01
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It is definitely slang. But I believe it is more synonymous with serious, or seriously...

"Is he for real?"

or

Person A: "I just jumped over that garbage can."
Person B: "For real?"

It is simple, if you are using this specific slang you are probably in a very informal setting.

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Here, for seems to be being used as a kind of intensifier, a marker to increase the rhetorical weight of the word real.

In other words, it does not merely state the purported fact of the realness/reality of Heaven, it positively tries to assert it.

As far as I can see, it doesn't have any genuinely grammatical function when used in this way.

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"For real" is grammatically incorrect as is "For free", as 'real' and 'free', not being nouns or pronouns, cannot be used with prepositions such as 'for'. The grammatical incorrectness of this usage is not mitigated by the fact that the usage is widely and commonly prevalent. What is intended to be conveyed with the inclusion of "For" can be conveyed correctly with just "Real", "Really" and "Free". Thus, "For" is both an inappropriate and unnecessary interloper.

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It is not a manipulation, nor an attempt to convince a listener of something but just conversational slang. Interestingly, it is both used as by someone who is telling and listening:

speaker: 'I bought this for ten buck -for real'

listener: Ten bucks! For real! Cool bro!

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  • Of course it's [in your example] an attempt to convince. It's the conversational version of the veridical (ie commenting on the truth of a statement) pragmatic marker Really ! May 16, 2014 at 16:12
  • It really is just a slangy reply that is oft-repeated in conversation -rather like the 60s(?) equivalent to 'cool' -an approval
    – Third News
    May 16, 2014 at 16:20
  • alcas disagrees. Google disagrees: for real phrase 1. informal used to assert that something is genuine or is actually the case. "I'm not playing games — this is for real!" I disagree. May 16, 2014 at 16:25
  • @EdwinAshworth In the listener case it's expressing mild doubt or soliciting confirmation while all the time accepting that the speaker is telling the truth. (it should have a question mark really). Or alternately it could be expressing joy towards the speakers good fortune, then it wouldn't need a question mark. It's a very flexible term, that's for sure.
    – Frank
    May 16, 2014 at 16:40
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    @EdwinAshworth Maybe I've misunderstood the OP. I felt that he meant he knew how for real was used in Heaven is for real and was asking for what it meant in X is for real which opens up a wide range of possibilities including things like Kim Kardashians bottom is for real and your own I'm not playing games - this is for real and also Are you for real?.
    – Frank
    May 16, 2014 at 17:05

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