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I'm learning the new word "definition" and there are two example sentences listed on my app:

  1. What’s your definition of happiness?

  2. I need a definition for this word.

Should I use "of" or "for" after "definition"? Or both are OK?

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Both:

  1. What’s your definition of happiness?

  2. I need a definition for this word.

are correct.

Note should be taken of the fact that with definite determiners (in this case "your") the preposition "of" will be preferred, while with an indefinite determiner (in this case "a") the preposition "for" can be used. It should also be taken into account that "of" is much more usual than "for", which will only be accepted in restricted contexts such as (2) above.

According to Seth Lindstromberg in English Prepositions Explained, while "of" expresses referential possession (the word has a definition) or a verb-object relationship (the word is defined), "for" expresses purpose (I want a definition for the purpose of defining this word).

Something similar can happen with other nouns, for example "solution":

  • The solution of the problem is ...
  • A solution for the problem could be ...

Here is a good reply concerning the degree of idiomaticity of "a solution for" as compared with "a solution to" (in answer to Ram Pillai's comment below).

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    I think you're spot on, though it would be good to include a reference. // Perhaps the most commonly met examples are "What's the definition of xxxx?" and "The definition of xxxx is ..." (usually inaccurate, as decent dictionaries give various senses and subsenses for words). And here: (2) appropriate dictionary definitions of 'definition' would perhaps take up twenty to thirty lines for all the senses, four per 'definition', whereas an answer to (1) could run to pages. And then there's 'definition' when judging the quality of photographs.... Commented Mar 23, 2020 at 14:25
  • A solution to the problem - is more appropriate. Can we say, 'A solution for the problem....'?
    – Ram Pillai
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 6:03
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    @RamPillai Thank you for your comment. I made an addition accordingly.
    – Gustavson
    Commented Mar 24, 2020 at 15:08
  • Does your answer also hold for "equation of" vs "equation for"?
    – Bart
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 10:29
  • @Bart Could you provide an example?
    – Gustavson
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 14:45

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