What’s the grammatical principle behind the use of ‘for’ with an adjective?

The following common expressions are in the form of for in conjunction with an adjective:

  • (give/take) for granted
  • (leave) for dead
  • for better/worse
  • for sure/certain

There doesn’t seem to be anything else of the same pattern in modern usage. I guess they’re just set expressions handed down to us from the olden days. But is there a rationale behind the construction at all, from either historical or contemporary grammar?

I had a look in the OED for clues, but couldn’t find any. In fact, Definition 19b under for shows more specimens that make me even more curious of the underlying logic that perhaps you could provide or speculate. For if I were to encounter phrases of such construction in the wild, in old books most likely, how would I attempt to understand their meanings?

Maria Edgeworth, Moral Tales, 1801:

Frederick, as soon as he had finished this speech, which he pronounced in a peremptory tone, left the room; and Laniska’s friends, who perceived that the imprudent words he had uttered in Berlin had reached the king’s ear, gave the young man up for lost.

Coventry Patmore, The Angel in the House, 1858:

She had forgot to bring a book.
I lent one; blamed the print for old;
And did not tell her that she took
A Petrarch worth its weight in gold.


“for” here marks a predicative complement or predicative adjunct. In this role it is often possible to substitute “as”. It can generally mark a predicative noun-phrase in lieu of an adjective, e.g. “I took him for/as dead” or “I took him for/as a corpse”.

“for better for worse” is better understood idiomatically as “whether she prove better or worse” (in the words of the OED), but is derived in the same way – I will accept her both as a better person and as a worse person (than she now appears to be).

“for sure/certain” can be glossed “as a certainty” (OED).

“for”+PC is licensed by a small number of verbs such as “[mis]take” (I [mis]took him for the owner), “leave”, “pass” (He would pass for dead/18), “have” (She has a pig for a pet), “choose”/”nominate” (Nominate him for treasurer). Not all of these verbs accept an adjectival PC.

In your examples, the 1801 example is still current (they gave him up for lost), and the 1858 example can be understood as “as” – I blamed the print (quality) as old.

Source : Link , Question Author : Taiki , Answer Author : Pax

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