If you’ve recently watched a commercial or two in the US, you’ve likely heard that a promoted product is beneficial for your skin, your health, or perhaps your waning energy levels – but is it beneficial “to,” or is it beneficial “for”?
The difference between “beneficial to” and “beneficial for” lies in the preposition that follows the adjective. The phrase “beneficial to” answers “beneficial to whom?,” while “beneficial for” answers “beneficial for what?” You should use the preposition “to” for people or animals and the preposition “for” for objects, ideas, or reasons.
Continue reading to find out more about the prepositions “to” and “for” with the adjective “beneficial,” as well as what these phrases mean and how to use them correctly in your writing.
The Difference Between “Beneficial to” and “Beneficial for”
The meaning of beneficial is simple — at its most basic, it is essentially something that is “good.” Something can be beneficial to a person or living thing (including animals), or something can be beneficial for an object, such as a company.
The easiest way to decide when to use beneficial for or beneficial to is to ask yourself the following questions:
- To whom is it beneficial?
- For what is it beneficial?
When to Use “Beneficial to”
You’ll often see these prepositions (to and for) used interchangeably, but to do so in conjunction with the term beneficial is incorrect. If you want to show that something is good or advantageous to a person or animal, the correct preposition is “to.” Here are a few example sentences:
- It is beneficial to your sister when you help her with her homework.
- A daily multivitamin can be beneficial to dogs and people alike.
- The new vaccine will be beneficial to many people.
In each of these sentences, the recipient of the benefit is a person or animal. It is incorrect to say that a multivitamin is beneficial for people. Despite the phrase sounding correct, most — if not all — grammar experts will tell you that “to” is the correct preposition in this context.
When to Use “Beneficial for”
There really is not a distinct difference in meaning between the phrases “beneficial to” and “beneficial for.” In both cases, someone or something is receiving something “good.”
The difference pertains more to the object of the benefit. When you use “for” after beneficial, you are communicating that the recipient or object of the benefit is an object, idea, or thing. Remember, you’re answering the question, “beneficial for what?” Here are a few example sentences:
- It is beneficial for large companies to invest in small startups.
- It is beneficial for certain plants if you place them in direct sunlight, while others need shade.
- Eating fish is beneficial for your heart health.
Why This Is
You might be wondering at this point if sentences two and three are correct. The answer is yes. If you are scratching your head, relax! At times, these phrases can be tricky, and you should know that most people will not notice, whether in speaking or writing, that you’ve used the wrong one.
Still, let’s quickly go through why “for” is correct in reference to sentences two and three.
In the second sentence, we used “for” to express a benefit for a living thing, a plant. It may seem contradictory given that earlier we stated that for living things such as people and animals, “to” is the correct preposition.
The reason that, in this context, “for” is correct is because while a plant certainly is living, we most often think of it as an object, different from a person or animal. Therefore, you should use “for” rather than “to.”
In the third sentence, we are speaking of a person’s heart health, but we are not speaking of a person as a whole or a particular individual but, rather, a part of a person’s body, which we would also consider as a “thing.”
It makes more sense to look at “heart health” as answering “beneficial for what” rather than “to whom.”
Beneficial to versus Beneficial for: More Practice
Let’s look at a couple more examples to see if you can identify the correct preposition.
- Antioxidants are beneficial <to/for> many reasons, including skin health.
- The new tax bill is beneficial <to/for> the economy.
- Taking a deep breath is beneficial <to/for> you.
- Reading is beneficial <to/for> your vocabulary development.
Remember, ask yourself “beneficial to whom” or “beneficial for what” in determining your answers. If you chose “for” for numbers 1, 2, and 4, you are correct. The only sentence above that requires “to” as the preposition is number 3.
Again, the reason is that it answers “beneficial to whom,” and the object of the benefit in the sentence is “you.” In all of the others, the object is an idea or thing — many reasons, the economy, and vocabulary development.
When It Comes to Your Health, Is It “Beneficial for” or “Beneficial to”?
When it comes to your health, you’ll hear the word “beneficial” quite frequently. And after reading the previous sections, you may already know the answer to whether you should use “beneficial to” or “beneficial for” in reference to your health.
If you are speaking of health in general, such as in “Going for a walk is beneficial for improving overall health,” you’ll want to use the preposition “for.” Because we’re not talking about a particular person but, rather, referencing an object or idea (overall health), the correct preposition is “for.” This article was written for strategiesforparents.com.
You may see a sentence like this: Going for a walk is beneficial for my mom’s cardiovascular health. Despite the fact that we are referencing a specific individual (mom), the object of the benefit is her cardiovascular health. Therefore, “for” is correct.
Prepositions to and for: What’s the Difference?
In nearly every sentence you read or write, you’ll likely find multiple prepositions. While not quite receiving as many accolades as other parts of speech like nouns and verbs, prepositions are vital to writing clear, meaningful sentences in English.
A preposition’s role is to show some relationship in space or time between two nouns — people, places, and things. Most commonly, you will find them following a noun, noun phrase, or pronoun — something that can replace a noun, such as he, she, or it, for example (source).
Understanding “to” as a Preposition
The word “to” is a trickier preposition because it can mean a few different things. To make matters worse, there are three different spellings of the word, all having different definitions (too = in addition; or two = the number).
However, the preposition “to” generally expresses movement toward something or indicates progress toward a goal (source).
The goal can either be a physical space or destination, but it does not have to be. It can also indicate or express a particular purpose, desire, or intention, and you will often find it in between one verb and an infinitive, the base form of a second verb.
It would look like this: VERB + TO + INFINITIVE.
There’s no need to get too caught up in infinitives, but you should understand them in this context as simply part of a verb phrase that expresses the purpose of something (such as a benefit) or to express someone’s opinion about something (source).
When we look at phrases like “beneficial to,” the preposition “to” does not indicate direction or physical space as in other cases but, rather, a purpose, particularly to express that something or someone provides an advantage.
Understanding “for” as a Preposition
The word “for” is another very common preposition that has a few different meanings. We can use it to signify a purpose, similar to “to,” as in “I need to read this book for my Chemistry class.” The word “for” can also function to introduce a person who is to receive something, as in “I’d like to get flowers for my mother.”
The word “for” can also refer to a duration of time, such as “I have been waiting in line for two hours.” Another way to use “for” is to indicate an exchange. An example would be, “I’ll trade you my cupcake for your ice cream.”
Finally, “for” isn’t always a preposition, but it can also act as a conjunction that means “because.” You’ll sometimes find this use in very formal writing and often in literature, especially of the classical variety.
Using the word “for” in conjunction with beneficial is similar to the preposition “to” in that it indicates purpose or movement toward a goal. In differentiating these two phrases, you’ll have to identify what that purpose is and whether it answers “to whom” or “for what.”
We’ll break this down more shortly, but first, let’s dive into the meaning of the word “beneficial” and its various uses and parts of speech.
Parts of Speech: Benefit, Beneficial, and Beneficially
Quite a few words in the English language can function in multiple different ways and act as various parts of speech, depending on slight spelling changes. The word “beneficial” is just one example.
Benefit: a Noun and a Verb
The word “benefit” means that there is some advantage or aid given. It is a noun — in this context, an idea or thing — but can also act as a verb (an action). The root word of “benefit” comes from the Latin word “bene,” which simply means “good” (source).
Often, you’ll find the word benefit used in conjunction with health benefits that a place of employment provides, including medical insurance. It can also refer to a payment or even a performance by a group hoping to raise money for a cause, such as in “Will you attend the benefit this Thursday to support cancer awareness?”
Below you’ll see a few more examples showing how you may find the word “benefit” used in a sentence. The first two sentences reflect benefit as a noun, while the third shows how “benefit” can operate as a verb.
- I receive health benefits through my company.
- Exercise provides many different health benefits, including heart health.
- The flowers in our backyard would benefit from daily watering.
Beneficial: An Adjective
A simple change in spelling and suffix and you’ll find that benefit becomes beneficial, moving from a noun to an adjective, a word that describes a noun. So, while the meaning of the word is the same, the way you’ll use it in a sentence is a little bit different. Here are a few examples:
- There are many beneficial reasons to make healthier lifestyle choices.
- Bees are beneficial insects, but you shouldn’t bother them if you don’t want to get stung.
You don’t always need to use either “to” or “for” with the word “beneficial.” The expression can also stand alone as an adjective, describing in the first sentence the reasons for healthier lifestyle choices and, in the second, bees.
Beneficially: An Adverb
A third variation of the word benefit is the adverb, beneficially. Here, you’ll see that there is simply an addition of an -ly suffix to the end of the word, which is a very common suffix you’ll find on many adverbs. Remember, adverbs are simply words that modify or change a verb, adjective, or another adverb (source).
In general, adverbs provide more information about how you do something if it is a verb or describe an adjective in more detail. So, if you consider the word beneficial, changing it to its adverbial form means adding more information or detail to a verb, adjective, or adverb. Here are a couple of examples:
- Drinking water with lemon can beneficially aid in staying hydrated and healthy.
- The speaker’s presentation beneficially influenced the employee’s opinions of the change he implemented.
In each of the sentences above, “beneficially” functions as an adverb to explain in more detail how the action has occurred. However, it is much more common that you will use either the phrase “beneficial to” or “beneficial for” rather than the word “beneficially” since it sometimes can sound a bit awkward.
Next, we’ll break down each of these phrases with ample examples so that you can better differentiate between the use of each preposition (either to or for).
Prepositions are not always easy to identify and understand, especially when we use them in conjunction with certain words like “beneficial.” Just remember that as long as you can answer the questions “to whom” and “for what,” you’ll most often get it right.
And even if you don’t, don’t worry too much. Even native English speakers make these common mistakes. With time, you’ll find that you may soon be helping someone else understand the difference.
Until then, be sure to get yourself a copy of the Oxford New Essential Dictionary and Dreyer’s English, a style guide. Both will help you in your learning journey.
If you’d like to learn more about prepositions in combination with other words and phrases, take a look at another article that focuses on these nuances, “In the Beginning or at the Beginning.”