At the time of writing, there is a group of Cooper Union students protesting the university's decision to charge tuition. They are holding a banner that reads:

Free Education to All

Can this be construed as correct (under any scheme of interpretation)? It seems that "Free Education for All" would be expected, but I wonder if using "to" here is also correct (perhaps with a different meaning).

  • 'Death to all infidels' and 'A Merry Christmas to all our Members' use to; they've got perhaps more poignancy, more va-va-voom than the for- alternatives would have. These are not complete sentences, so inviolable 'rules' are even harder to claim. Can we think of a sensible unellipted form? 'Free Education should / must be made available to All.' Is it having a desired effect? Making us think about the issue? Making us examine the English and the issue behind it? Making us wonder if these students really need some free education? Would a 'Free Education for All' banner do the same? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '12 at 20:04
  • Are you yourself a Cooper Union student seeking a wider audience? Is the clever variant yours? – Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '12 at 20:05
  • @EdwinAshworth, I'm not one of the students, no, but my office is near Cooper Union and we all saw the banner; there was some discussion about whether or not it was a correct wording. – Ben Lee Dec 4 '12 at 22:13
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    It's far better than Education Free for All, which may be the reality anyway. :-) – user21497 Dec 4 '12 at 22:21
  • @Ben: Forgive my suspicious mind (though I'd probably have done it as a student). I can't shake the resonance of the reformed Scrooge's "A merry Christmas to everybody!" - and wasn't Dickens inspired when he hired the Muppets to star in the dramatisation of "A Christmas Carol" - and the fact that you'd have to be almost a Christmasphobe to ignore the students' poignant appeal. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 4 '12 at 22:24

'[Give] free education to all' seems like an imperative: '[You, the institution] must give free education to all', as opposed to 'Demand free education for all'.

But, because the leading verb is omitted, the banner's meaning is unclear. Who are they talking to? I assume that they are targeting both students and members of the institution and therefore, as pointed out by Ryan, they should instead use the standard idiom: Free Education for All.

To see an example of usage over 20 years ago

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Standard American English idiom would certainly be Free Education for All. To all sounds stilted to native ears, and probably in the UK, Australia, etc., as well.

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