I asked this question on the English Language Learners section of Stack Exchange, in the comments after my original question had been answered. The person who answered my original question promised to answer my other question I made in the comments, which never happened. So I will be asking my question here instead:

When I say,

"This tool was made for building things."


"This gun is used for protecting myself from threats."

The for gerund implies something that will/was going to happen in the future.

But when I say,

"He was arrested for murdering his colleague."


"He was scolded for having spilled his drink."

The for gerund means that one thing happened because of another; something like a cause-and-effect.

Can someone explain why this happens?

  • 1
    In your first two examples, "implies something that will happen in the future" sounds like a wrong assumption. It may have happened in the past, may be happening right now, and may happen in the future. Archaeologists may say "this tool was made for building walls", a cook may say "this beater was made for beating eggs but I'm beating a souflé.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 16:00
  • The difference is in the usage of 'made for' and 'used for', which carry an implied 'for the purpose of', compared to that of 'arrested for' and scolded for', which carry an implied 'for the reason of'.
    – JHCL
    Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 16:01
  • 2
    I've just looked in 'An English Grammar_William Malone Baskervill' 321 'The chief meanings of for are as follows ...' They list ten 'chief' meanings but don't really provide a decent answer to your questions. Your first 'for' is the 'for the purpose of' sense, and, as Centaurus says, is time-independent. This invention was/is/will be for doodlewhacking experbolites. The second sense you mention is the 'for having done / perpetrated / achieved etc' sense, and the noun/gerund phrase must refer to something completed at the time of arrest, praising etc. But I vote for continuing.... Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 16:25
  • @Edwin Oh, they finally invented something I can use to doodlewhack my experbolites? About time, too! Commented Sep 7, 2015 at 17:14

2 Answers 2


This can be simplified. Consider the following sentences:

A. "The gun was made for killing people."

B. "He was arrested for killing people."

A. "The gun was made for killing people."

This means, "The gun was made for the purpose of killing people."

'The gun was made' is past tense but 'for the purpose of killing people' has no tense. In fact a gerund never has a tense - it is a noun equivalent.

B. "He was arrested for killing people."

This means, "He was arrested for the crime of killing people."

'He was arrested.' is past tense but 'for the crime of killing people has no tense. Again, a gerund never has a tense.

In case you still think a gerund was past tense in those examples, what about these?

A. "The gun will be made for killing people."

B. "He will be arrested for killing people."


The preposition "for" has a lot of uses. Longman DCE has a list of 25 uses. In your examples you have only two different uses:

1 Water is good for washing. "for" indicates the use, the purpose.

2 He was arrested for murder. "for" indicates the reason.

It is worthwhile studing the preposition for in a larger dictionary to see that "for" has not one meaning, but a lot.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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