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Earlier today I was talking to a friend and said something like

I'm gonna buy carrots for to make stew.

After my friend finished chastizing me for this obviously wrong grammar, I decided I was curious about it. However, it was hard to find anything with a search engine seeing as "for" and "to" are extremely common words.

What is the origin of this colloquialism? Are there specific geographical regions where people might say this?

Or at least, let me know if I'm misremembering something I heard a long time ago

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  • For to? Not heard of.
    – Ram Pillai
    Mar 28, 2020 at 4:36
  • It's familiar, but archaic. I'd be surprised if it were in current use even in the most isolated of spots now. Mar 28, 2020 at 5:25
  • 1
    Possibly relevant to your question: Why "enough for to fill" instead of "enough to fill" in this sentence?
    – Sven Yargs
    Mar 28, 2020 at 8:00
  • '... For I want for to go to Widecombe Fair, With Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan'l Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.' But impossible at the moment. Mar 28, 2020 at 16:50
  • It's archaic. (Though note that the colocation "for to" can appear in "modern" writing, in a context such as "This is not a choice but a reality, for to avoid this outcome is to prevent a future in which all of humanity would benefit from globalization's promise".)
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 28, 2020 at 16:52

2 Answers 2

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For is part of the infinitive complementizer, sometimes called the for..to complementizer.

  • For marks the subject of an infinitive clause
    (and is usually deleted, especially when the subject is deleted).
  • To marks the predicate of an infinitive clause
    (and is occasionally deleted after verbs like help or see).

The result is that we tend to identify to with infinitives, and not with for. But they're both available as part of the construction.

For is required in some cases;
for instance, when an infinitive clause with a subject is the subject of a higher predicate:

  • [For him to leave now] would be a bad idea.
  • *[Him to leave now] would be a bad idea.

And in some lects the for still appears occasionally with the to without a subject. The for is sometimes interpreted as a purpose marker, the way it would be with a gerund, but it's just the remnants of an old construction, still poking their bones up through the grammar.

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I don't know. But as Edwin points out, it's common in song lyrics—for example, "my true love for to see" in Stephen Foster's "Oh, Suzanna."

A more recent example is from Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man": "I'm ready to go anywhere, I'm ready for to fade."

So it's old, but it's still used. That makes sense: Sometimes song writers need an extra syllable, so that gratuitous for can be handy.

It's not common here in the northern U.S., but it might be in the south.

John Lawlor's description of its use is good. Let's see if anyone else here can zero in on it.

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