Not being a native English speaker, I feel that there is some difference in meaning between

Call to action


Call for action

However my research was unfruitful. Is there a difference between these two expressions?

  • ...unless someone can find a way to take and answer this question in the higher level of abstraction. Otherwise, yeah, this is better in english.SE
    – Louis Rhys
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 5:31
  • 1
    I think so too, your question fits the EL&U better. Note: The -1 is not given to you by anyone. It's automatic when your question gets closed as Off Topic. If possible, I would've migrated it.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 9:11
  • Was this question migrated to EL&U or just closed?? It looks like it was just closed but I feel strongly that it should've been migrated... I've flagged it for moderator attention to migrate. Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 10:40
  • 1
    @hippietrail It has been closed because there is no migrate option yet. Only mods can migrate something without the option.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 11:41
  • @Alenanno: Ah I wondered that, but SE staff can also do those things so hopefully my flag will get it the right kind of attention to migrate it. Commented Oct 10, 2011 at 15:51

2 Answers 2


Putting aside the different grammatical constraints mentioned by @Gaston Ümlaut, there are constructions where either preposition can be used but the meaning usually differs...

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...where in most cases a "call to action" is addressed to either the population at large, or everyone within some substantial community, but a "call for action" is normally addressed to government, or the leaders of some organisation (note that "a call to arms", which is far more common than either of these, is also invariably addressed to large numbers of people, not to leaders).

In most cases, a "call to action" actually seeks to persuade large numbers of people to do something "intermediate", which will put pressure on leaders to carry out the desired "action" (everyone should write to their government representative, so the government will change some policy, for example). It's fairly unusual to see the expression "call to action" used in contexts where people at large are being asked to do something that directly resolves some problem (turning down house thermostats to combat global warming, for example).

Effectively, a "call to action" asks everyone to agree action should be taken, but a "call for action" asks the relevant people to actually do it.


This is an example of how a verb's semantics change with different prepositional complements. I think the difference in meaning can be seen by considering some different forms of the verb such as:

  1. He called for action


  1. ?He called to action.

It seems to me that 2 is probably ungrammatical and needs an object, such as:

  1. He called them to action

Based on this, the phrase 'call for action' appears to be focused on the need for action, whereas 'call to action' is focused on the need for someone (who the hearer may be able to identify) to act.

(Disclaimer: Just a quick analysis, I'm sure it could be improved substantially by someone who's researched this issue)

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