So why do human beings spend so much time playing? One reason is that we have time for leisure; animals have very little time to play as most of their life is spent sleeping and (2)________ food.

Source: Cambridge English, FIRST 1 (2014): Test 1, Reading and Use of English paper

The following options are given:

A. searching ; B. looking; C. seeking; D. gaining

The answer given in the book is C, which is fine by me, in fact in the EL&U archives I found this question: "Seek" vs."search"; the accepted answer with twelve upvotes says:

[…] However, they are really quite different. One fundamental difference is that the object of seek is the item you are trying to locate, whereas the object of search is the place you are looking in. […] Also, seek implies that the seeker knows that the item they are looking for does exist. Search has no such implication.

Which confirms the "correct" answer is seeking. The other reason for it being the only answer possible is that we normally use the preposition ‘for’ with the verb search.

  1. ‘search food’ (NO)
  2. ‘search for food’ (YES).

Which brings me back to the EL&U question. If ‘food’ is the object of seek, as stated in the accepted answer, and a fundamental difference between seek and search; why do native speakers tend to say search for food?

enter image description here

The above Google Ngram seems to strongly suggest that searching for food is perfectly grammatical.

  • If native speakers say seek food, and search for food; what is the fundamental difference between the two?
  • 3
    Seek has an element of need and single-mindedness while search for is more objective and task-oriented. Contrast heat-seeking missile and its possible alternative heat-searching missile.
    – Lawrence
    Nov 6, 2015 at 10:22
  • 4
    To begin with I would suggest that searching for is a far more intense activity than seeking. My wife has gone shopping, she is seeking (looking for) a new pair of shoes (having only 99 existing pairs). I cannot find my passport, and I have spent the day searching the house for it. Clearly the second is a rather more urgent activity than the former. There is then the basic difference that seek takes as its direct object the thing that is being sought, whilst the direct object of search is a place, necessitating the addition of for to accommodate the item as indirect.
    – WS2
    Nov 6, 2015 at 10:25
  • 3
    @Mari-LouA To me searching suggests a more desperate uninterrupted activity, whereas seeking is more akin to keeping an eye out for. That is the extreme difference, but clearly there is overlap. But they are not direct synonyms.
    – WS2
    Nov 6, 2015 at 11:31
  • 4
    It's interesting how the most upvoted answer (Chenmunka's) is at odds with the OED and the other answers...
    – Dan
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:48
  • 4
    I don't think there is a difference, apart from etymology and non-synonymous meanings. (Water seeks the lowest level, it does not search for the lowest level. You seek a college education, you don't search for one. You can search a forest for your lost watch, you cannot seek a forest for your lost watch.) Both mean "to try to find". You can either seek Camelot/the Holy Grail, or you can search for Camelot/the Holy Grail. Other than that, you are talking about customary or preferred usages.
    – NES
    Nov 6, 2015 at 21:17

14 Answers 14


Since the object of search would be a location (not the thing searched for), "food" cannot be used on its own as the object, as you have noted.

Instead, when we say "search for food", the "for food" is a modifying clause to clarify what we are searching for. It needs "for" precisely because "the object of seek is the item you are trying to locate, whereas the object of search is the place you are looking in."

Notice that even with "for", the clarifying clause is not serving as the object of "search". This becomes more clear if we include an actual object. For example:

search the room for food

"the room" is a location and is the object of the search. "for food" is still only a modifying clause that clarifies what the search is for. It doesn't thereby become the object of "search". Therefore, "search" and "seek" are indeed still different in the way you originally noted.

  • 1
    This is the real answer. If one was searching food, you'd be looking for something within food. There is an implied "searching food [to find what?]" versus seeking food. As in, it's the answer to the referenced question. It's not the answer to the OP's question: Why is search for different from seek?
    – SrJoven
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:00
  • 1
    "search for" mischaracterizes the grammer. "for" is not part of "search", it is part of the modifying clause "for food". It is true that "search for food" is grammatical, but only because "for food" together is a grammatical modifying clause.
    – Thomas
    Nov 6, 2015 at 16:45
  • 4
    Yes, the question is confusing "Search" with "Search for", as noted these are not the same. "Search for X" and "Seek X" can be used essetially interchangeably. "Search X" is not the same as "Search for X".
    – Robert
    Nov 6, 2015 at 17:03
  • To give an example illustrating this answer, you search the desert for water, or search for water in the desert, but you seek water in the desert or seek in the desert for water. Nov 7, 2015 at 14:23

Fundamentally, it comes down to knowing what is out there.

You search for something that you know (or at least are highly confident) exists. You just don't know where it is.
You seek something that you hope exists.

This also explains the use of for with search. You are searching for something known - for a specific item, person or solution that you will recognise as soon as you see it. Thus, search for food, search for a pair of shoes, search for your car keys.

You seek an unknown. You don't know exactly what it is. Thus you seek a cure for cancer, seek world peace, seek happiness.

A couple of examples:
He searches for the truth.
He seeks the truth.

The former may be used when trying to differentiate the truth from falsehood. There is a true solution to some problem and it is being searched for.
The latter is more philosophical or metaphorical. The truth is out there and one day we may know what it is.

He searches for food.
He seeks food.

Here the former implies that a hungry person is hunting for something to eat. This could even be on the level of choosing a restaurant.

The latter implies a quest for sustenance, be it physical food or food for the mind.

  • 7
    Your answer contradicts the accepted answer on EL&U which states: "Also, seek implies that the seeker knows that the item they are looking for does exist. Instead, you're saying this is true for the person who searches for something.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6, 2015 at 11:54
  • 2
    My impression is that it has to do with breadth. Search does a broad scan of the environment, whereas a seek is a methodical depth-first search, i.e. following a trail.
    – Andreas
    Nov 6, 2015 at 12:28
  • 1
    "I searched Professor Plum's final meal seeking evidence that he was poisoned in the kitchen." How does that sentence fit within your framework? Overall I agree with @Andreas. I always thought of searching as casting a wide net, and seeking as being targeted/focused.
    – Erik
    Nov 6, 2015 at 20:05
  • 3
    All of these examples seem so contrived to me. You 'seek' a cure for cancer but do not search for it? I'm not convinced. "The search for a cure" is a very common phrase indeed. Likewise, all these examples about 'seeking' things that might not exist neglect the extremely common topic of searching the Internet or some website. The target may not exist, but no one prefers 'seek' here. Nov 6, 2015 at 21:08
  • 1
    Either this answer is incorrect or it depends heavily on context. When a hard disk moves into position to read a particular sector, it's called a seek. Certainly, the hark disk is not unsure whether the location exists or not.
    – jpmc26
    Nov 8, 2015 at 7:54

Here are some examples of established phrases involving tangible targets in which seek and search are used in ways that are not really interchangeable.

  • Search and Rescue organization

  • execute a search pattern (looking for a known object in a large but usually bounded space by conducting a disciplined and thorough pass through the space)

  • search algorithm (programming terminology for a method of locating a known object in a collection);

  • walk through a search area;

  • heat-seeking missile (missile that locks onto a heat source and pursues it);

  • seek and destroy (get in, locate, eliminate, get out immediately); and

  • seek time of hard drives (time taken to locate a known location on a hard drive).

The common thread among the search examples is that the precise location is unknown, whereas among the seek examples, the precise location may be known. These search examples also seem to biased towards being thorough, while the seek examples seem to be biased towards speed.

Regarding your question of why native speakers tend to say "search for food" instead of "seek food", it may be because the presumed context is that someone knows or hopes it's out there but doesn't know exactly where it is. For example, one might be required to search for food in the jungle.

On the other hand, in "seek food", the word "food" is used in a more conceptual manner, like "seek happiness" or "seek shelter". Perhaps the distinction (and it is a fine line) is that "seek food" highlights the intent while "search for food" highlights the action.

  • I like this. To me, "seek" implies some kind of focused deduction is involved.
    – Andreas
    Nov 6, 2015 at 12:32
  • Again, many of these examples seem contrived and based more on common usage than any kind of definition. You wouldn't say a 'seek and rescue' mission because that is not common parlance, any more than you would say 'search and save', even though I doubt you are arguing 'rescue' and 'save' are not interchangeable here. Are you claiming that if I asked, "What is the search party seeking?", that this would be a misuse of the word or I would be misunderstood? Nov 6, 2015 at 21:11
  • However Search and destroy and seek and destroy are used interchangeably.
    – barbecue
    Nov 6, 2015 at 22:31
  • 1
    ... No actual "seeking" or "searching" is involved. As defined, if you are "seeking" (or "searching for") someone/something, you don't know where it/they will be found, you look perhaps many places until you find it. If I wanted to get my mail from my mailbox, I wouldn't say I'm "seeking it" or "searching for it", I would be just "getting" it from the place that I know it will be. Nov 8, 2015 at 16:47
  • 1
    In any case, your answer doesn't really address OPs question. OP didn't ask if "search" and "seek" are interchangeable, or if there are cases where they're not interchangeable, or for examples of either (or actually anything at all about the individual words "seek" and "search"). The OP asked, if there are differences between an animal "seeking food" or "searching for food" (are they synonymous), and why one is preferred over the other. Your answer addresses neither of these, and really just (over) states the obvious, since no one has or would say that "search/seek" are always interchangeable. Nov 8, 2015 at 17:13

In searching for an answer to the difference between "seek" and "search" I sought the help of several sources. I looked in the German dictionary, Shakespeare, and the King James Bible.

My feeling after examining these different sources is that the current "difference" between these words is idiomatic and that trying to pin down the exact meaning difference between these words is futile. Or trying to give a usage rule will meet with many exceptions.

Seek comes from middle English (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=seek&searchmode=none) and is also used in German (suche.) German (to the best of my knowledge) only has one word for this idea of "looking for / examining, etc.) "Search" and "Seek" both mean "suche" in German and expressions that in English have distinct usages don't generally have that in German. "I'm seeking / searching for an answer." is fine in English but "I seek the ocean for the plane wreckage" is odd. In German, however, "suche" can be comfortably used for both.

Search comes into English from old French via Latin and means to thoroughly examine. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=search There is an example "Search warrant." Why don't we say "seek warrant"? In German the word "durchsuchungsbefehl" is used which means literally "through seek order." Warrant also comes from old French http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=warrant. So I think if English hadn't had the French influence, police might now be saying "seek / ing order." As in German. I can't prove this, of course. I do think search warrant is a good place to begin when thinking about the meaning of search.

Why the German connection? Because I think that before "search" came into English through French (and possibly also heavy usage in legal things) "seek" might have been the word used in common speech (and in ways we probably would not feel "comfortable" with.) Perhaps someone with a background in older English usage can shed some light on this

In looking through the King James Bible, I found that search seems to be used more for land or physical things (search Israel or search your heart), and seek for specific things, such as Jesus, answers, or abstracts ("seek and ye shall find.") However, I'm not sure if this line of reasoning is valid because the Bible was translated and the original source documents might have had two words, or just one word. I am not a Bible scholar so I cannot say. The Bible also contains the new testament which was written in Greek. I found examples of search and seek in the new testament. Does Greek have one word (like German) or are there two words as in modern English?

In looking through Shakespeare I found many examples of search and seek but the meaning differences were not always apparent. I'm not sure Shakespeare is a good place to look because we are talking about poetry and iambic pentameter, so although search and seek are both one syllable, each word might have had a "feeling" for Shakspeare that doesn't really help us to understand the difference through his writing. The most humorous example I could find was from All's Well That Ends Well: "That seeks not to find that her search implies." If anyone can find a meaning difference there, I think Kenneth Brannaugh is searching for you. (Maybe he's seeking out your advice?). I looked in Shakespeare because I felt there might be a preponderance of one word over another that could shed some light on the meaning. This wasn't apparent to me, however another user might see something I overlooked.

So to sum up, my feeling is that current uses of "search" and "seek" are largely idiomatic and to say that the correct answer for "animals ______ food" is "seek" is dubious. In fact given that historical usage supports "search" (in the sense of exploring land or thoroughly examining a space) I feel "search" is the better option. I think historically many native speakers grew up with the King James Bible as a source of "proper" language and could see the meanings of the words in context, so would have extended those meanings in speech, and have done so since the KJV was released. In looking at the various answers given, I see some great ideas but I think they are ideas about the idiomatic usage and they can't really help to know the difference or boil things down to a strict definition. It would be like trying to find a definition for "spank" by looking at the expression "brand spanking new." If we give a definition for one word someone can say "Yeah but what about this usage in Hamlet / the Bible / The Constitution / Chaucer etc." If I were forced to give definitions based on what I found, I would say that search is used for physical spaces or ideas which have a sense of physical space, as in "search your mind.", and seek is more abstract. We seek knowledge, wisdom, truth, answers, justice. Of course, we play "Hide and seek." and I'm seeking the other person not an abstract. It wouldn't be English without "exceptions."

The word "seek" is still very much in use. A quick search on Google for "seek" + "USA Today" will show many uses of the word seek. "Seek"+ "Daily Mail" also indicates the word is being used. Just this week, there were three instances of it.

  • +1 for attempting to explain why we have the two terms.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 7, 2015 at 7:41
  • +1 for, "The current 'difference' between these words is idiomatic and that trying to pin down the exact meaning difference between these words is futile. Or trying to give a usage rule will meet with many exceptions."
    – jpmc26
    Nov 8, 2015 at 8:02

I suspect the reason that the semantic difference between seek and search varies among different native speakers posting in this thread is that most native speakers don't use "seek" very much at all.

The object of "seek" (or the much more common "look for") is the thing that's missing. The object of "search" is the place that you hope to find it. But "search" doesn't require a direct object at all. As a result, "search" tends to emphasize the process whereas "look for" tends to emphasize the thing that's missing, but both emphases are rather mild.

  • You might want to do a google search for the word "seek" before saying that native speakers don't use it much. Seek+USA Today Nov 9, 2015 at 1:26
  • @michael_timofeev it is still used a lot in the written language, but not in the spoken language, as I should have clarified.
    – hunter
    Nov 9, 2015 at 7:47

In the original question, the correct answer is "seeking", only because "for" is not included in the optional answers. If the answers were

A. searching for ; B. looking; C. seeking; D. gaining

then (A) would be on an equal footing with (C) as a response. Ditto "looking for". As a reference, I am going to use the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

While there are some situations where search, seek, and look differ in usage (especially look), there is also considerable overlap where they are essentially identical in use. This would be, for search and look, where they are used with for. Examine the first definitions of search and seek:

search: to carefully look for someone or something

seek: to search for (someone or something)

Compare these to this entry under look:

— look for 1 : to await with hope or anticipation 2 : to search for : seek

They are each used to define the other. In this usage, they are completely interchangeable. In the original question, the sentence used is identical in meaning with any one of: searching for, looking for, seeking.

Except that "seek" is very nearly archaic in common usage (in the US). I do believe it is very rarely used for common verbal communication. It does get usage in formal communications: novels, written communication, speeches. In the US, common usage would most likely be "looking for". "Searching for" would come second, I think. Since there is sufficiently little difference in the formal, dictionary, definitions of each word formation, then common usage becomes a significant defining factor. Given the close similarity between the three phrasings ('searching for', 'looking for', 'seeking'), I would argue that the connotational difference between them, in this usage, is null.

Technically, there are usages where each word varies from the other in definition. I will also say that a test author might very well expect the person taking the test to know such connotational nuances as have been described. However, in this case, I do think that one can stick with the interchangeable definition. Taking one usage over the other would only communicate any connotation to such a small audience, that one would effectively not be communicating the connotation at all.

Which leads me back to my premise. The only reason that seeking was the correct choice is because for was not included in either the sentence or the possible answers. And, the other original question: why is "search for" more common? I can only answer because it is common usage. Most people keep their communications simple to maximize the ease of communication, and to maximize the numbers of the audience who will "get it". Generally, that means limiting your word choice to the more commonly known words.

  • I see...seek is archaic? Go do a google search "seek"+ "USA today". The word was used several times in the last few weeks. Nov 9, 2015 at 1:09
  • Might read what I said again - specifically re: written communications. Other than someone uttering the old saw "seek and ye shall find" - when was the last time you heard "seek" in verbal communication? I could be wrong, but at this moment, I'll stand by my thoughts on the use of seek.
    – Mark G B
    Nov 9, 2015 at 23:39
  • BTW - someone else got a Google Ngram comparing seek and search for. [books.google.com/ngrams/… I believe the results of that, given that is for written communications, validate the view that "seek" is becoming rarely used, and is approaching archaic or obsolete status. At the very least it is rare, particularly in spoken English.
    – Mark G B
    Nov 9, 2015 at 23:47
  • Go look up seek on Google for USA today, the newspaper. If it were possible to check spoken news programs, you'd see that it is indeed still used. Obsolete? Nov 9, 2015 at 23:57

In order to seek food, you may search your fridge. Unless you have forgotten where your fridge is; in that case you have to search your house, seeking the fridge.

  • This is perfectly fine as a comment, much less so for an answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 7, 2015 at 22:28

The definitions from the OED (below) do not make a clear and categoric distinction but suggest that whereas seek may be used when you know what you are looking for, search is used when the object and its location are not known.

I (UK) rarely use seek (preferring usually look for), but when I do I am 'seeking' something particular in a place where I expect it to be. I use search for when the thing I am wanting and its whereabouts are less clearly known to me. So,...

I look for (seek) something tasty to eat; (i.e. I sort of know what I want and where I should be able to find it)

I search for something to eat. (i.e. I'm not sure where to look or even if there is anything)

Hence, to adapt these nuances to your question, hunter gatherer's would both seek and search for food. They sought particular foods they knew could be found in particular locations, and they searched for food far and wide in the hope that they would find something.

From OED ...

Seek - To go in search or quest of; to try to find, look for (either a particular object—person, thing, or place—whose whereabouts are unknown, or an indefinite object suitable for a particular purpose). In most parts of England the vb. in this sense is no longer colloquially current, being superseded by look for. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/174794?rskey=PZrOHP&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid

Search - To go about (a country or place) in order to find, or to ascertain the presence or absence of, some person or thing; to explore in quest of some object. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/174308?rskey=FacptD&result=2&isAdvanced=false#eid

  • Unfortunately, I don't have a subscription or a library card number in order to access the OED, but both definitions, in your answer, seem to say that both the person (or animal) who searches/seeks is trying to find an object.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6, 2015 at 12:03
  • Not quite... seek involves looking for either "a particular object—person, thing, or place—whose whereabouts are unknown, or an indefinite object suitable for a particular purpose". Search does not.
    – Dan
    Nov 6, 2015 at 12:06
  • Also, as @Lawrence suggests, searching tends to be extensive and time consuming whereas seeking tends to be targeted and against the clock.
    – Dan
    Nov 6, 2015 at 12:20
  • Animals seeking food is not extensive or time consuming?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6, 2015 at 12:32
  • 1
    Yet when there's a person (whose identity is known) lost in the wilderness the authorities organize a "search party", not a "seek party", even if the search area is well-defined and reasonably constrained.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 6, 2015 at 17:27

From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

Etymology of search:

c. 1300, from Old French cerchier "to search", from Latin circare "go about, wander, traverse," in Late Latin "to wander hither and thither,"

Etymology of seek:

Old English secan "inquire, search for; pursue; long for, wish for, desire; look for, expect from," influenced by Old Norse soekja, both from Proto-Germanic *sokjan, from PIE *sag-yo-, from root *sag- "to track down, seek out". The natural modern form of the Anglo-Saxon word as uninfluenced by Norse is in beseech. Related: Sought; seeking.

To revise my earlier answer, I think these etymologies support the idea that search emphasizes the physical location of a desired thing, whereas seek emphasizes a desired outcome.

The two words are often interchangeable, but sometimes they are not...

search for is better than seek in the following cases because they unambiguously entail a physical search:

  • extraterrestrial life
  • lost keys
  • survivors
  • Sugar Man / Bobby Fischer

seek is better than search for in the following cases because they plainly need not entail a physical search, i.e., you can seek any of these from someone whose location is known:

  • advice
  • justice
  • forgiveness
  • asylum

I think the question is probably (at least partially) designed to see how you handle having an option that's part of a more natural speech pattern ("search", as part of "searching for food") but would have a different meaning as presented ("searching food"; i.e., looking through food for something). "Searching for food" would probably be a better choice here, as ngrams (and the state of uncertainty about food) indicate, but since it's not technically an option, "seeking food" is the correct answer.

Doing the ngrams search again for the options as presented shows practically nothing for "search food".


Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms (1984) offers a fairly lengthy discussion of search versus seek in its entry for a group of eight related terms:

seek, search, scour, hunt, comb, ferret out, ransack, rummage are comparable when they mean to look for or go in quest of in the hope of finding. Seek has become widely extended in application and may take as its object either a person or a concrete thing or something intangible or abstract and may imply either a quest that involves great effort or one that makes slight demands; the term is more often used in written than the spoken language [examples omitted] Search implies both effort and thoroughness. It differs from seek especially in taking as its object the place in which or the person on whom something is sought; it therefore connotes an investigating, an exploring, a penetrating scrutinizing, or a careful examining [examples omitted]

This dictionary's emphasis on thoroughness and on directed looking in a specific area in search, versus a more open-ended questing in seek seems to me to be a valid general distinction.

S.I. Hayakawa, Choose the Right Word: A Modern Guide to Synonyms (1968) includes search and seek in a group with hunt, comb, ransack, scour, sleuth, and track. Here is this book's discussion of search and seek:

Search and seek are considerably more general than the previous pair [track and sleuth]. Search may indicate the act of looking for a lost object or for an object presumed to exist: navigators searching for a western route to the Est Indies. The word may also apply to mere activity without clearly stated goals: young people searching for a cause that would give meaning to their lives. ... Seek can give a more archaic flavor than search, except in set phrases: seek and find, seek and destroy; seeking out directions, a place, or a person. The word can also indicate vague desires or high-minded aspirations: negotiators seeking the good of all mankind; peacemakers who have always sought for an end to war.

I'm not sure whether Hayakawa's observation about the potentially more archaic flavor of seek has much validity any more. Perhaps any such flavor that the word might have added fifty years ago has been greatly diminished as a result of the broadening application of seek that Merriam-Webster's mentions in its discussion.

With regard to the question of how "search for food" differs from "seek food," I would say first that there is considerable overlap in real-world usage and that many people may use one or the other term to mean the same thing. However, I read "search for food" as having the implication of checking (in the first instance) various likely locations or sources of food (the pantry, the refrigerator, or dumpster behind the grocery store, for example), while "seek food" may suggest a less location-specific approach (asking other people for advice on likely nearby sources, for example) as well as visiting specific promising locales.

  • Interesting how some answers contradict each other and the older EL&U which claimed: “...seek implies that the seeker knows that the item they are looking for does exist. Search has no such implication” I frankly do not see any distinction, if you're "searching for/seeking a missing person" or "seeking/searching for a particular person" i.e. "I'm looking for a Mr. Jones", presumably the person exists.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 7, 2015 at 21:43
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA: I'm not sold on the argument that a fundamental difference exists between the two words in many settings, and I doubt that most people have a clear idea of even a subtle difference between the two. One interesting change since about 1940 involves the frequency of all uses of seek versus all uses of search. As this Ngram shows, seek has gotten a bit more frequent, while search has risen sharply.
    – Sven Yargs
    Nov 8, 2015 at 3:29

Etymology aside, here is a general usage answer from a native: I'd never use "seek" in spoken language unless I wanted to sound like I'm pretending to be someone from medieval/Renaissance England who is searching for (to use the colloquial) something epically, spritually significant. When spoken, "I am seeking X" usually sounds like you're joking about the item of your search being very important. Most likely you're actually looking for something boring like a pencil, or looking for someone who knows how to fix the office printer that broke again. In your example provided about humans seeking food, "seek" is also perfectly OK to use in educational writing when it's used about a third person entity because it sounds formal by eliminating the wordiness of having a preposition ("search for"). However you still would not use it written in relation to yourself unless you wanted to suddenly sound like a knight, or worse, blissfully unaware that you're taking yourself and your goals too seriously.


This is not meant to be an answer, but at the same time it's far too long for a comment. After reading everybody's answers I wanted to add my following impressions, but it would have been inappropriate to do in the question. Users of course can agree or disagree, so I'll take any down-votes on this post to mean I am totally off the mark, which is fine. I promise, I won't retaliate.

Here is the preface to the translation of The Institution of the Christian Religion originally written in Latin in 1536 and translated into French five years later by its author John Calvin. The English translation was by Thomas Norton in 1763. The expression ‘seek for’ is used to describe the pursuit of spiritual atonement.

The Translator to the Reader

Good Reader, here is now offered unto you the fifth time, printed in English, Mr Calvin's book of the Institution of the Christian Religion; abook of great labour to the author, and of great profit to the church of God.

The English equivalent, seek for, is found throughout the volume. The following is an excerpt from page 243

If we seek for satisfaction, it is in his sacrifice: if we seek for cleansing, it is in his blood: if we seek for reconciliation, in his going down to hell: if we seek for mortification of the flesh, it is in his burial: if we seek for newness of life, it is in his resurrection: if we seek for immortality, it is in the same: if we seek for the inheritance of the kingdom of heaven, it is in the entrance into heaven: [etc.]

enter image description here

A modern-day translator might very well delete the preposition for, and the remaining text would remain grammatical. For example;

  1. If we seek for satisfaction ---> If we seek satisfaction, it is in his sacrifice.
  2. if we seek for cleansing ---> If we seek cleansing, it is in his blood.

But would If we search for satisfaction be ungrammatical in this case? Where do we search for ‘satisfaction’? The author tells us it is found in his (God's) sacrifice.

Personally, I'd prefer seek, but I'm not sure why I do, perhaps it is only dictated by euphony.

Besides, why not use ‘search for’ in connection with abstract ideas: happiness, truth, love, companionship? All things which are notoriously difficult to find (or seek) in real life.

  • Hat tip to @michael_timofeev and Barrie England (see comments)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 7, 2015 at 9:54

The term SEARCH is used for an object or thing..! for example searching phone or shoes.. n SEEK is not used for an object or something, its used for something which we can't touch or see.. like something abstract.. for example seeking advice, seeking hope !

  • 3
    So animals seeking food is an abstract concept, is it?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:56
  • 3
    Oxford Dictionaries provides this example: They came here to seek shelter from biting winter winds. I think you're onto something but you're making it seem very black and white, while nothing in English is set in stone.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:57
  • i am confused :P
    – user144097
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:11
  • 1
    @user144097 Where did you get your information?
    – Ben
    Nov 6, 2015 at 15:41

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