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I am collaborating on a text which includes a sentence like

This is always true of subset A and, here, it is also true of subset B.

A collaborator has asked if I should write "true for" instead of "true of", and this has led me to question why I decided to write "true of" in the first place.

While I found some discussions on Google, none clearly distinguished to me when to choose one over the other (or even if both are correct).

In one hit, one answer offers the example

There is a difference:

be true (for someone/something): Carleta is from Valencia and the same is true for he [sic] friend María.

be true (of someone/something): It rains a lot in the northwest of England, and that is especially true of Cumbria.

with the explanation

In the first sentence, Carleta and Maria are two separate entities, while, in the second sentence, the northwest of England includes Cumbria, so there is a relationship between these entities.

"Engineers are smart people and the same is true for John" -> John is a smart person just like engineers, but he's not necessarily one.

"Engineers are smart people and that is especially true of John" -> John is an engineer and, as such, a smart person.

According to this logic, I think I should write "true of", but I don't want to take one Google hit as gospel, especially given the lack of any references.

Another discussion on the same site gives no clear answer and digresses into the meaning of "of" in several contexts.

So, when is a quality "true of" something and when is a quality "true for" that thing?

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  • This question would be better if you went into a bit more detail about the example explanations you found and why they didn't help. Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 10:20
  • My own impulse is that one says true of for things and abstracts and true for people, but honestly, I don't think there's a difference. I don't buy that whole bit about John being or not being an engineer.
    – KarlG
    Commented Jan 15, 2018 at 12:47
  • I would say that "true of" relates to an inherent condition or attribute of the object but that "true for" relates to external forces and their effects on the subject. For example we might say "John is old and frail, this is also true of his wife, Mary" but we would probably say "Because of his age and frailty Social Services take an interest in John's welfare, this is also true for his wife Mary"
    – BoldBen
    Commented Dec 9, 2022 at 8:59

3 Answers 3

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True of and true for don't mean the same thing. True of = "characteristic of," while true for = "applies to" or "is relevant to."

Examples:

Judaism has certain dietary restrictions. The same is true of Islam. (characteristic)

As we age, we tend to visit the doctor more often than we used to. This is true for most senior citizens. (relevant to)

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The distinction in the question given by you (OP) appears in other websites too (e.g.: https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/threads/be-true-for-be-true-of.52747/). But, 'true for' is also used even when talking about a special case.
For examples, see https://lingohelp.me/preposition-after-adjective/true-to-for-of-in-with/
(Disclaimer: Some sentences there are incomplete (even to the point of making thesentences wrong)).

By searching in google trends, we can see that the frequencies of 'especially true of', 'especially true for', 'particularly true of' and 'particularly true for' don't differ that much (although 'especially true of' is more frequently used).

But there are sentences where 'true of' is used without the special case cannotation, and it feels wrong to me to use 'true for' in its place:

e.g.: It may simply be true of the journalists who feel strongly enough to express an opinion.

Another website adds an angle to it which deserves more attention.

True of and true for don't mean the same thing. True of = "characteristic of," while true for = "applies to" or "is relevant to."

Examples:

Judaism has certain dietary restrictions. The same is true of Islam. (characteristic)

As we age, we tend to visit the doctor more often than we used to. This is true for most senior citizens. (relevant to)

(Source: https://thegrammarexchange.infopop.cc/topic/true-of-for)

PS: By the way, according to this logic in the question, it should be 'true for' unless B is closely related to A so that the truth of A implies truth of B (e.g.: B is a subset of A). By the logic of 'characterisitic of' vs 'applies to', both 'true of' and 'true for' are fine.

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  • Also, I guess people nowadays tend to prefer 'particuarly true for' and 'especially true of'. Commented Aug 10, 2022 at 4:56
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With your particular example, I'd use

Subset A is non-empty here. This is always true of subset A and, here, it is also true of subset B.

(stating a property of the subsets)

but

In subset A here, we find male as well as female members. This is always true for subset A and, in this example, it is also true for subset B.

(focusing more on elements within the subsets).

Sorry, a rare unsupported answer. And I'd not consider other choices incorrect.

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