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  • He repented of his sin before he died.
  • I sincerely repent of my sins.
  • She repented of her decision to leave Iran.
  • We repent for it

Oxford has a number of examples using both prepositions, including

  • ‘Wonder if Janet will repent for her theft, or get caught further and further in a web of deceit.’
  • ‘Miss Macleod added that her expiring brother said that he had always repented of his actions.’

A different preposition would normally change the meaning, but there's no indication in the examples that it does here. Is there a difference, or are of and for completely interchangeable?

  • I'll try and find evidence, but to my ear repent for assumes a third party more than repent of does. Of=internal, for=external (though not to say insincere) – Unrelated Feb 9 '17 at 18:39
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The difference is subtle, and while "repent for" is becoming more common simply because it sounds more consistent with other phrases, that is a shame since "repent of" conveys something meaningful that "repent for" does not.

"Repent for" indicates a simple cause-and-effect relationship, e.g. "I committed some sins, now I have to repent for committing them." Just like, "I got a speeding ticket, and now I have to pay a fine for speeding."

"Repent of" has a more subtle meaning. It's closer to "repent about", but not quite: The idea is that you are attempting to take something within yourself - a part of yourself - and reform it, or distance yourself from it. Consider it a combination of "meditate on", and "dispose of".

That's a pretty different - and I'd say a more powerful - idea than simply facing consequences for an act.

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IMHO they mean the same thing. There's some discussion on this here and here, but nothing conclusive. They're indistinguishable in meaning for any practical uses I can think of.

  • 2
    Please do not provide links without content. The links will go dead. Please summarize what's hidden by those links, and place it in context here. – tchrist Dec 11 '16 at 16:47
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Use *repent of*.

The two forms do not have meaningful difference. Repent for is a replacement for repent of as we forget the historical preposition for the verb.

While repent for is used occasionally, it is much much rarer than repent of.

Repent of vs. repent for

ngram

Repent vs. Repent of vs. repent for

enter image description here

It also only started appearing after the use of repent as a whole fell off. As people became less familiar with the word repent (I suspect because society became less and less religious, or at least less guilt oriented), they became less sure of the preposition to use with it.

Of course, that doesn't mean that repent for is wrong per se, but that its use is not a meaningful alternative to repent of, but an ignorant replacement.

Also, as Wandle over at WordReference reminds, repent means to feel regret, not to confess. I wonder if repent for comes from that confusion. It seems to me I've heard repent for more in contexts that mean confess but I have nothing to back that up.

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The answer posted by Unrelated shows clearly that "repent of" is in far more frequent use than "repent for" in the Google Books database of published writing, but I don't think that the Ngram charts reproduced there offer a very useful head-to-head matchup of the alternatives. In hopes of remedying that shortcoming, I generated an Ngram chart for the period 1800–2000 for "repented of his" (blue line) versus "repented for his" (red line) versus "repented his" (green line):

This chart indicates that for the past two centuries the order of preference in published writing has been first "repented of his," second "repented his," and third "repented for his."

Similar graphs appear for "repenting of his" (blue line) versus "repenting for his" (red line) versus "repenting his" (green line):

and for "repent of his" (blue line) versus "repent for his" (red line) versus "repent his" (green line):

If you look at the individual Google Books matches that the line graphs are based on (which you can do here for the repented alternatives, here for the repenting alternatives, and here for the repent alternatives), you'll see that the form "repented/repenting/repent his" generates a higher number of false matches (such as "...truly to repent. His attitude...") than the other two forms. But even so, there are clearly more legitimate instances of "repent his" than of "repent for his."

Looking at the individual matches for the three forms ("repented of his," "repented for his," and "repented [no preposition] his"), I can't detect any difference in the intended sense of the verb based on the mediation of the preposition chosen (or omitted altogether).

Matches from the period 1934–2005 find that one person or another "repented of his" sin[s], cruelties, actions, violence, errors, evil deeds, act, love, harshness, early enthusiasm, selfish life, fears, opposition, haste, crime, former arrogant attitude, rebellion, worldly life, choice, wrongdoing, silliness, disdain, folly, disobedience, greedy ways, wickedness, work, and creation.

Matches from 1978–2005 find that a similar person "repented for his" birth, action, misconduct, love, act, sin[s], past deeds, hard work, folly, failure, transgressions, crime, selfishness, vanity, pride, behavior, evil conduct, wrong, and extramarital affairs.

And matches from 1953–2005 find that a person "repented his" love, sin[s], involvement, diatribe, first error, anti-music position, decision, political ways, crimes, bargain, eagerness, lack of hospitality, former conduct, past mistake, folly, action, command, and youthful devotion.

Those objects of repentance seem to me to be virtually interchangeable from one list to the next. That being the case, you should probably signal by other means any difference in meaning that you wish to convey with regard to repentance.

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