Compare the sentences:

After all he has done for me, he needs my help.

After all he has done to me, he needs my help.

The first one implies that the subject has done good things for the speaker and now the speaker has the opportunity to repay him; the second implies that the subject has wronged the speaker in some way(s) and now needs the speaker's help.

Is there any context in which "do for" could carry a negative meaning, or "do to" could be positive?

  • 2
    I've heard "do for him" being used as mafia slang for kill him. In the same context as "take care of him" – Slepz Jul 26 '16 at 23:43
  • Dunno about "do for", but being classified as "done for" is not good. – Hot Licks Jul 27 '16 at 2:05

Done for means "done on [someone's] behalf". If someone was trying to commit suicide, but the police did it for him, it isn't clear how grateful his survivors would be.

But since the "for" means the subject is doing what the object wants done, yes, most of the time, the object will experience it as a positive.

Off topic, but in British English, "done for" as a phrasal adjective means "doomed".

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Positive do to:

"Hot diggity, dog ziggity, boom
What you do to me,
When you're holding me tight."
-Hot Diggity (Dog Ziggity Boom) [1956]

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  • I think the positiveness of this example is debatable. It seems to me as if the reason "to" is being used here is to make the accusation that "you" are afflicting a sort of near insatiable desire on "me." If the affection is left unsatisfied, it might be distressing. If it is necessarily positive in this context, would you please explain more about why that is the case? – Tonepoet Jul 27 '16 at 1:08
  • @Tonepoet, well it's Perry Como, not Tom Waits. The lyrics of the song indicate the singer's affections seem presently satisfied, even as the uptempo accompaniment inflicts further optimism. OTOH, this Dorothy Collins version is performed from a psychiatrist's couch. – agc Jul 27 '16 at 3:36

Positive "do to"

You do something to me,

something that simply mystifies me.

Tell me, why should it be

you have the power to hypnotize me?

(Cole Porter)

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