In technical writing, we often need to describe things that have a certain purpose: the menu item whose purpose it is to save a file, the code whose purpose it is to send a message, and so on. A colleague and I have different intuitions as to the correct form for these noun phrases. In the following table, which column is correct/preferable and why?

"to" + infinitive "for" + gerund
the menu item to save the file the menu item for saving the file
the code to send the message the code for sending the message
a globally unique ID to identify the form a globally unique ID for identifying the form
the repository to load data from the database the repository for loading data from the database
  • "those purpose it is" (??). Is that a typo? Whose purpose? The code's? Isn't that an it vs. a who? Mar 12 at 7:37
  • @HippoSawrUs Thanks, I've fixed the typo. AFAIK, "whose" is perfectly acceptable for things: merriam-webster.com/grammar/whose-used-for-inanimate-objects Mar 12 at 7:47
  • I don't know if it's relevant or useful but you can shorten many of these descriptors e.g. menu item for saving file(s)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 12 at 8:06
  • @HippoSawrUs My question is about the two styles listed in the table, not the wording I chose in the introduction. Mar 12 at 8:31
  • 1
    See also When should a verb be followed by a 'gerund' instead of an infinitive / to-infinitive?. Here, in each of the four examples, either construction is grammatical, with negligible change in meaning (few would pick up the nuances Greybeard suggests. But the ing-form does connote the process rather than the action/event seen punctively, in particular in all cases [see the related threads] where there is a choice. Think 'The Taming of the Shrew' [process].) Mar 12 at 11:55

3 Answers 3


The senses are nuanced:

"to" + infinitive "for" + gerund
the menu item in order to save the file the menu item for the action of saving the file
the code in order to send the message the code for the action of sending the message



"for gerund" describes the general purpose of something. "to infinitive" describes an immediate action that may be taken.

So we might say

The File->Save menu item is for saving files.


Click on the File->Save menu item to save your file when you're done.

They're closely related, since you take the action in order to achieve the corresponding purpose. So you can often interchange the phrases with little confusion.


As you mention, they are noun phrases, and in the first column the main nouns are all modified with infinitive phrases. They act as adjectives, describing a subject (or an object). When we use an infinitive phrase, we want to express individual purpose or intention.
On the other column, we have FOR + present participles. These, as well as FOR + nouns, explain the purpose or function of something, either what it does or how it will be used.

According to these terms, we may decide which one is doing what. These are my suggestions:

the menu item to save the file

(the purpose of that particular item is to save the file, therefore TO)

the code to send the message

(the purpose of that particular code is to send the message, therefore TO)

a globally unique ID to identify the form

(we are talking about one technique only, (we even have the adjective unique); there are no others; it's a particular technique that we use to do something in particular)

the repository for loading data from the database

(with this one, I don't know if there any other repositories; if there are, I think it's possible to use FOR + ING, because your system would have one repository for uploading, and another one for downloading, for example)

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