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Yesterday I asked an Australian friend "Who is this for?" in reference to a wallet on his desk. He laughed and thought my sentence didn't make sense in the context of the situation. Instead, he proposed that I should have asked "Who does this belong to?"

Can someone help me understand the difference and whether my usage was correct or incorrect, or whether my friend's response to my query was warranted (at least conversationally)?

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If I were the Australian friend, I guess I'd have misunderstood the question too at first.

"Who is this for?" could imply the wallet was perhaps a present prepared for somebody. Almost like your friend put it there to be taken by somebody else. So he chuckled when he heard what you said. After all, there's was probably money and credit cards there!

Who does this belong to? is a good suggestion, now you're asking who the owner of the wallet is.

But I would prefer a simple

Whose wallet is it?

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  • How doesn't "Who does this belong to?" have implications that it is a present for someone? Any argument applied to "Who is this for?" can be used similarly for "Who does this belong to?"
    – Jane
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 12:47
  • A present prepared for someone does not yet belong to that someone.
    – A.P.
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 12:50
  • If I ask Santa Clause "Who does this present belong to?" in reference to any particularly present, then he should respond that it belongs to himself?
    – Jane
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 12:52
  • I guess he'd say, "Technically, Jane, this present does not yet belong to anybody. But it's for Mike, in case you must know" :)
    – A.P.
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 12:54
  • So a presented prepared for someone belongs to whom?
    – Jane
    Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 12:55

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