For + noun



The phrase "computers for children" could be interpreted as "computers to be used by children"? Would it change the meaning if I used "children's computers"?

Posted 17 December 2001

"Computers for children" means that the computers are designed for children (with easy-to-use applications, etc.).

"Children's computers" could mean the same thing, but could also mean computers that are owned or used by a certain group of children. That is, these computers have not necessarily been designed with children in mind, as "computers for children" have been.



The phrase "computers for children" means that the computers will be used by children - that's the purpose of these computers. The meaning could change if you used "children's computers." "Children's," of course, is the possessive form of "children," and so "children's computers" can refer to the computers that belong to the children, as in "The children's computers are all working fine now."

The phrase "computers for children" always means that the computers are to be used by children; however, "children's computers" can mean either that the computers will be used by children or that they belong to the children.


The company makes computers for children.


The company makes children's computers.


The children's computers are not working.


The computers for children are not working.

Sentence (a) means only that the company makes the kind of computers that children use.
Sentence (b) means the same as sentence (a) in these sentences.
Sentence (c) means that the computers that belong to certain children are not working.
Sentence (d) probably would not be said.

Here is another example of both kinds of constructions used to indicate purpose and possession:


The store sells women's clothes.


The store sells clothes for women.


The women's clothes were all lost in the dormitory fire.

In the sentences above, "women's clothes" in sentences (e) and (f) indicate purpose; "women's clothes" in sentence (g) indicates possession.

Do you see a difference in meaning in the sets of sentences below?


The City Police Department is buying 60 new cars for the police officers.


The police officers' cars are to be used only on official duty.


Yesterday I went by the construction site where they're building a new school for blind people.


There was a fire last night at the blind people's school.


The class for accountants will be held on Saturdays.


The accountants' class is very interesting. I like it a lot. You should join up!

In the sentences in each of the sets above, "for" - in sentences (h), (j), and (l) - expresses purpose. Also, in these sentences, the purpose is a general or future purpose.

The second example in each set - sentences (i), (k), and (m) - indicates that the group of people (the police officers, the blind people, and the accountants) are already using the things described, and so, in a sense, already have some kind of possession over them.

In addition to phrases with "for" and possessives of nouns, there is sometimes the possibility of a noun adjunct construction, as in "child psychiatrist" (a psychiatrist for children), "cat food" (food for cats), and "baby aspirin" (aspirin for babies), etc. To complicate matters further, a noun adjunct can indicate possession, too, - mostly with inanimate possessors - as in "computer screen" (the screen belongs to the computer), "car door," and "chicken leg." (This last phrase is not for a chicken's leg when the chicken is alive.)

Some phrases are set, and it's not always easy to know which kind of phrase to use.


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