Take the following example sentence:

There was nothing there save for the warmth of the immeasurable light.

Is this the proper use of save for? Is there ever a proper use of save for? Can someone explain to me the correct usage, if there is one, and possibly some etymology of this phrase?

Examples of other correct use would be appreciated, though not critical.

3 Answers 3


The definition of save in this example is other than : but, except.

This article gives a rather interesting discussion about when to use except/except for, and that applies equally to save/save for.

That article mentions one case where you would use the 'for' version:

when what is excluded is different from what is included

Examples cited:

Your essay is good except for the spelling.

All the compositions are good except John's.

It goes on with several other cases, so I guess the nutshell answer is: Both are correct in different situations, and the rules for figuring out which to use are fairly complex.

  • I think these examples are misleading. The reason you can use "except" in the second one and not "except for" is the word "all". Without the "all", you would have to say "The compositions are good except for John's". Jan 13, 2012 at 14:00
  • That same page uses: "Everyone was tired except for John" so I don't think it's the 'all' that makes the difference but some other subtle thing about the usage.
    – Lynn
    Jan 14, 2012 at 13:10
  • You can (and people usually do) use except/save instead of except for/save for after words like everyone, all, nothing, no one, none and nouns modified by adjectives like all, whole, entire, every, no. See this webpage. Jan 14, 2012 at 13:18
  • I think maybe that's the wrong link?
    – Lynn
    Jan 14, 2012 at 14:19
  • Clearly. I meant to include this one. Jan 14, 2012 at 14:24

My first thought on reading this question was that although including the word "for" isn't exactly incorrect, it doesn't sit well with me. Here's the obligatory NGram showing I'm not alone...

enter image description here

The original meaning of save as protect from harm morphed through preserve -> put aside -> make an exception of -> with the exception of. This same meaning shift has also happened with the French sauf.

  • But going by Lynn's answer, the difference between "nothing save the" and "nothing save for the" is parallel to the difference between "nothing except the" and "nothing except for the", which would explain the ngram results: there's a wide difference in prevalence even though both are correct in different contexts. (Link) Oct 30, 2011 at 14:50
  • I don't fully accept the implications of that link, in that I don't think there are strong "underlying rules" dictating when "for" can/should follow "save" or "except". But regardless of any such rules, the fact of the matter is we very rarely include the word "for" when the antecedent is "nothing". And that's the context we're talking about here. Oct 30, 2011 at 15:15
  • Hmm... in "there was nothing there except for the warmth of the light", I would find it slightly odder to use "nothing there except the warmth of the light", because the warmth is not actually a "something" that's there. I feel that "except for" partly helps evade that issue. (And of course there are strong underlying rules at least in some cases: "The painting was good except one spot" or "Your essay is good except the spelling" are much improved by including a "for".) Oct 30, 2011 at 15:39
  • @ShreevatsaR: What can I say? Neither is "incorrect", but my NGram reflects nearly half a million usages without "for", against less than ten thousand with it. And I only looked into it in the first place because I thought OP's version wasn't the one I personally would opt for. But I agree with the link in Lynn's answer suggesting that we do tend to include "for" when the thing being excepted is a distinct sub-component of an antecedent "composite" noun (though not if it's just one element of a set of like items). Oct 30, 2011 at 16:08
  • One of the rules for "except for" is that you use "except" and not "except for" after words like "nothing", "everything", "the whole house", etc. So after "nothing" you leave off the "for." Jan 13, 2012 at 13:43

"Save for" means "except for", a prepositional phrase.

  1. In the story "The story of an hour" by Kate Chopin: "She knew that she would weep again when she saw the kind, tender hands folded in death; the face that had never looked save with love upon her, fixed and gray and dead."

  2. The streets of Toronto were quiet this morning, save for a steady stream of cabs and cars weaving their way through the still dark streets.

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