The Difference Between Für and For in German

A Closer Look at the Preposition 'Für'

Couple exchanging gifts on Christmas
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How would you translate the following sentences into German?

  1. This is for you.
  2. He decided not to do it for safety reasons.

Für often translates into "for" but "for" does not always translate into für.

If you literally translated the above sentences as 1. Das ist für dich. 2. Für Sicherheitsgründen hat er sich entschieden es nicht zu tun, then only the first sentence is correct. Though the second sentence is perfectly understandable, it should be written instead as follows: Aus Sicherheitsgründen, hat er sich entschieden es nicht zu tun.
Why? Simply put, für often translates into "for" but that isn't always so vice versa. Once again, another caveat to not translate word for word.
The main meaning of für, as when stating to whom or something is intended for, stems from the old High German word "furi". This meant "in front" - a present for someone would be placed in front of them.

Other Meanings of Für

Here are several examples of the main uses and meaning of für:

  • Stating to whom or what something is intended for: Diese Kekse sind für dich. (These cookies are for you.)
  • When stating for a quantity: Sie hat diese Handtasche für nur zehn Euro gekauft. (She bought that purse for only ten euros).
  • When indicating a time span or specific point in time: ich muss für drei Tage nach Bonn reisen. (I must go for three days to Bonn.)

Some expressions with für are likewise directly translated into expressions with "for":

  • Für immer - for always
  • Für nichts/umsonst - for nothing
  • Für nächstes Mal- for next time
  • Ich, für meine Person - as for me
  • Das Für und Wider - for and against

Take note: Für is an accusative preposition, so it is therefore always followed by the accusative.

"For" in German

Here's the tricky part. Depending on the nuances of "for" in a sentence, in German it can also be translated as follows:

  • Aus/wegen/zu: when describing the reason why; its purpose
    Aus irgendeinen Grund, wollte der Junge nicht mehr mitspielen - For some reason, the boy did not want to play with them anymore.
    Viele Tiere sterben wegen der Umweltverschmutzung - Many animals die because of pollution.
    Dieses Fahrrad steht nicht mehr zum Verkauf – This bicycle is not for sale anymore.
  • Nach/zu: towards a physical destination
    This train is leaving for London – Dieser Zug fährt nach London.
  • Seit: When describing the duration of time since something has occurred.
    Ich habe ihn schon seit langem nicht gesehen. I haven't seen him for a long time!

Above are just some of the more popular prepositions that "for" can be translated into. Also, keep in mind that these translations aren't necessarily reversible, meaning just because sometimes "for" can mean nach, that doesn't mean that nach will always mean "for." When it comes to prepositions, it is always best to first learn which grammatical case it goes with and then to learn popular combos (i.e verbs, expressions) these prepositions occur frequently with. 

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Bauer, Ingrid. "The Difference Between Für and For in German." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Bauer, Ingrid. (2020, August 27). The Difference Between Für and For in German. Retrieved from Bauer, Ingrid. "The Difference Between Für and For in German." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 1, 2023).