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General Writing and Grammar Help/He's a good role model "to/for" me.

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Question
Dear Ted,
I'm not sure if I should use the word "to" or "for" in the following sentence, or if both ways are grammatically correct?
He's a good role model "to/for" me.

Answer
Dear Glen:

I'm not sure if I should use the word "to" or "for" in the following sentence,
or if both ways are grammatically correct?
He's a good role model "to/for" me.

Both prepositions can be used.  The difference in the connotations is slight and is very difficult to explain.  The preposition "for" suggests, quite often, a kind of "movement toward." I went to the grocery store FOR potatoes.  I was missing potatoes; I needed potatoes; I went FOR potatoes.  If "HE" is a good role model FOR me, there is a little "hint" that I needed a role model and set out to find one.

The preposition "TO" does not have that connotation.  There is no "movement" suggested.  He is here.  I am here.  He serves as a role model TO me.

Let's say that Jim is a 10-year-old boy, and his father died when Jim was just a baby.  The 10-year-old Jim starts to get into trouble, doing things that he ought NOT to do.  Jim's mother says, "I need to find a strong, male role model FOR Jim."  The words "need" and "find" suggest that the mother will be searching for a male adult to help her.  That means she must "move" to fulfill the need.

She would never use the "inactive" pronoun "to."  She would NOT say, "I need a male adult TO Jim."

However, if John becomes Jim's male adult "mentor," Jim can say, "John is a role model TO me."

I told you it was complicated.

If you have doubts, use FOR.

Ted  

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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