Showing a baby bottle to my son I ask him "Who's that for?", obviously waiting for a "That's for me!" answer (which turns out to be just "Me!")

But I am not a native speaker and I kind of translate from my mother tongue but is this correct? How would a native speaker say that?

  • I'm not a native speaker, but it looks perfectly fine for me (aside from the unnecessary space in front of '!' and '?'). Oct 17 '12 at 13:08
  • @MattЭллен you are right! I have already been told that here english.stackexchange.com/questions/4618/…. Call that the French written accent as it is the rule in French.
    – hoang
    Oct 17 '12 at 13:10
  • 14
    I'd say "Who's this for?" if I had the bottle in my hand. I'd say "Who's that for?" if the bottle were on a table or in a bottle warmer.
    – user21497
    Oct 17 '12 at 13:55
  • @BillFranke: English often has this where many other languages would use that. It seems like a very common mistake, anyway.
    – Jon Purdy
    Oct 17 '12 at 17:35
  • @Jon Purdy: The OP is a native speaker of French, which doesn't always distinguish between the two pronouns. Chinese and Japanese and English do.
    – user21497
    Oct 17 '12 at 18:42

Fifty years ago, someone would have pointed out that:

  1. Prepositions should never be used as the last words in sentences.

  2. 'Who', governed by 'for' although not obviously so in this sentence, should be in the accusative case and thus be replaced by its variant 'whom'.

They would probably have demanded: "For whom is that?"

Today, about 100% of native speakers would use "Who is that for?" (we tend not to ellipt when speaking to very young children), or, as you say, "Who's that for?"

  • 2
    "Whom's that for?" would theoretically be technically superior ... but I don't recall ever hearing anyone say that.
    – Jay
    Oct 17 '12 at 13:54
  • 3
    I don't find "ellipt" in a dictionary. I take it that's intended to be the verb form of "ellipsis", but is that an actual word or did you just invent it?
    – Jay
    Oct 17 '12 at 13:55
  • 4
    Should 'ellipt' be 'elide'? Oct 17 '12 at 17:13
  • 1
    @Jay, wiktionary says verb ellipt (“(linguistics) To omit (from an utterance) by ellipsis”) is a back-formation from ellipsis. Oct 17 '12 at 17:23
  • 2
    Only if one insists that prescriptivism (or compliance with romance languages) is the controlling factor. Dec 23 '12 at 8:05

If by “showing” a bottle you mean holding and displaying it, “Who's this for?” would be said far more frequently than “Who's that for?”. You may find Is there a clear delineation between the usages of 'this' and 'that' in American English? and linked questions of interest. Briefly, use this for items proximal, and that for distal.

  • I'm holding the bottle actually. Thank you for pointing that out! I'll use "this" now.
    – hoang
    Oct 17 '12 at 14:50

On one hand, the statement "For whom is this bottle intended?" is a more elegant way to ask the question.

If I were to ask my own child, I would probably use "Who's this (bottle) for?", almost exactly as you've phrased it in the question. I think toddlers deserve some syntactical leeway.

  • 1
    You say you regard "For whom is this bottle intended?" as a more elegant formulation, but what you really mean, I think, is that it belongs to a more formal register. The relevant factor here is the type of audience you are addressing and the context (e.g. formal vs. informal, socially distant vs. socially intimate) in which you are doing so. I don't think most people would regard the register of "For whom is this bottle intended?" as the most appropriate one for talking to a toddler or baby (as you too have noted).
    – Erik Kowal
    Apr 19 '14 at 6:40
  • 1
    @Erik Kowal 'Whose Southern Comforter is this?'? Aug 27 '14 at 18:21
  • @EdwinAshworth - "What did you do with that baby?" - "Oh, I left him in the gin sling. He seems to enjoy it".
    – Erik Kowal
    Aug 28 '14 at 2:55

You could also ask

"Whose is this?" (with or without "Is this yours?)"

The connotations are a bit different, but can be equally educational and playful for the child.

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