I am into finding a convincing formula, or at least a rule of thumb, about when to use "to" and when to use "for" after adjectives - such as easy, difficult, important, interesting, and useful - and before personal pronouns and nouns.

I have gone through numerous and different advice by English-speaking people on the "to vs. for" problem for non-English speakers.

There were some cases in which they seemed interchangeable while there were others where they did not. Many people said the issue could be more about a preference or tendency than a rule, thus leaving English learners no choice but to learn them case by case. I came across some advisers who came up with a few rules, some of which I found very helpful while others seemed to contradict one another.

In the following examples, "to" and "for" seem to be interchangeable, and yet slightly different in meaning.

I reason that a marked difference between "to me" and "for me" would be found in whether "me", the narrator, has experienced it, the subject of the sentence, or not.

(A) English is not easy "to me".

This implies that English is not easy "in my view (in the view of the narrator)".

(B) English is not easy "for me".

This implies that English is not easy "in my experience (in the experience of the narrator)".

How does my reasoning sound to you? Any comments will be greatly appreciated.

  • Trying to find rules for English is almost a hopeless task. Our language is a mess. – Barmar Jun 9 '16 at 21:17
  • I do agree with you. But wouldn't it be a pity for English learners to have no choice but to learn them case by case? – Choe Guevara Jun 10 '16 at 4:38
  • @ChoeGuevara Why? After all, that's how the rest of us learned these. There is no easy shortcut to learning which adjective govern which prepositions, as there are always different patterns. – tchrist Jun 11 '16 at 4:54
  • I appreciate your words of encouragement. – Choe Guevara Jun 11 '16 at 6:44

Sentence (A) is not correct. Sentence (B) is correct, but doesn't exactly mean what you've suggested. To capture the distinction you're making here, you need more words.

To express that English is not easy in my view, I could say:

  • English does not seem easy to me.
  • I don't think English is easy.

To express that English is not easy in my experience, I could say:

  • English is not easy for me.
  • English has not been easy for me.
  • I haven't found English to be easy.
  • Thank you for your answer. I have no intention of sticking to my suggestion. It's just part of my efforts to have a better grasp of their usage. In another example, would this distinction make sense? (Example) English may not be easy to you now, but it will be easy for you once you learn it. = English may not seem easy to you because you didn't start learning it yet, but it will become easy if you learn how to speak it and get familiar with it. = English may not be easy in your view now, but it will become easy in your anticipated experience. – Choe Guevara Jun 8 '16 at 14:23
  • Quoting another example, "Water is wet for many people. = Water is wet in the experience of many people" versus "Water is wet to many people. = Water is wet in the view of many people." – Choe Guevara Jun 9 '16 at 4:31
  • Sentence A is grammatically correct, though sufficiently awkward to be rarely used and mark the user as not a native speaker. Herb Caudill's alternatives seem good to me. – DCDuring Jun 12 '16 at 14:19

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