Please note that I am posting this question because I'm still not sure if I understand the difference although I did a comprehensive study of a great number of answers to the "for versus to" questions.

This issue turns out to be much more complicated than I expected. I chose to pick this among many and different questions still to be made.

(A) It is important FOR me to speak proper English.

(B) It is important TO me to speak proper English.

(A) It is important FOR me to speak proper English.

Could this imply that he or she is an English learner and wants to improve his or her English very much, making it possible to rephrase it as "it is important that I speak proper English?"

(B) It is important TO me to speak proper English.

Could this imply that he or she, presumably a native English speaker, expects English to be spoken properly no matter who the speaker is, making it possible to rephrase it as "it is important to me that English be spoken properly" or "speaking proper English is important to me?"

My guess is that they wouldn't be interchangeable and could have different meanings as above. I would appreciate any advice, hopefully including any rule of thumb.

  • 1
    (A) and (B) are saying different things, so yes, they're (for and to) not interchangeable in all settings (especially this one). (A) means that it is important that the said person can speak English well in general (i.e. a foreign person needing to speak English for a job), while (B) means that speaking proper English is important to the person speaking it. – Blubberguy22 Jun 6 '16 at 12:24
  • I appreciate your advice. Do you have anything to comment on the reworded sentences because I was wondering if I understood their meaning well enough to rephrase? – Choe Guevara Jun 6 '16 at 12:47

Your phrase references two persons:

  • the person who should speak proper English (call this person S); and
  • the person who regards this as important (call this person R).

In (A), your interpretation is that S and R are both the same person. This is a valid and natural reading of the statement.

However, for me to only specifies S; R is implicit (or alternatively, R is not explicitly specified). The context could include as the next sentence, "My teacher would have kittens if I mixed my metaphors.", in which case the context equates R with the teacher.

In (B), you consider R to be the narrator and S to be everyone. This is also a valid interpretation, but it would also be natural to read this as having the narrator be both R and S, with an emphasis on being R.

Here, "to me" specifies R and leaves S unspecified.

In both (A) and (B), only one of S and R is specified. Instead of artificially constraining the unspecified role, you can simply say that (A) is about the narrator's speech while (B) is about the narrator's values.

  • Thank you very much for your advice. I think it would help me a lot. Any comment on the rephrased sentences would also be welcomed. – Choe Guevara Jun 6 '16 at 12:49
  • @ChoeGuevara Yes, the rephrased sentences fit their respective (A) and (B) originals. In the last rephrasing, "Speaking proper English is important to me", the word speaking suggests that the narrator takes the role of S. – Lawrence Jun 6 '16 at 13:09

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