I know from this question that the following two sentences:

  • J'achète un livre à mon ami
  • J'achète un livre pour mon ami

Can both potentially mean "I am buying a book for my friend"; that is, I intend to give the book to my friend, or in other words, my friend is the person who will benefit from the action of buying the book.

(I also understand that each of these two sentences can each have a different meaning, that the other sentence cannot have; "à mon ami" can mean "from my friend", ie, that my friend is the one who is selling me the book"; and "pour mon ami" can mean "on behalf of my friend", for example that my friend was too busy and asked me to buy the book on their behalf).

I am wondering if there are nuanced differences (in meaning or in usage) between these two sentences when they mean "I bought a book for my friend"? Or, are they exactly equivalent?

1 Answer 1


Here is again a question concerning this lack of force in expressiveness that the preposition "à" can be reproached with. Semantically and particularized to the sole context mentioned, there is no nuance. The only difference is in the effectiveness of the communication: whereas in the case of "à" one can have to turn the sentence in their mind before registering what is really being said, and have to rely on context too, in the case of "pour" the idea conveyed is more readily apprehended, although, there is in that second choice nothing more than an amelioration over the first.

As far as goes a possible nuance that could be found in virtue of a particular context, I think the discussion in this recent answer of mine does apply in the present case also.

  • If à takes slightly more time / mental-effort for the listener to understand, and if it's less forceful, what reasons might a person use à instead of pour? Why hasn't "acheter à qqn" (to mean "buy for someone") died out? If you wanted to say "Sam doesn't own the sixth Harry Potter book! I'm going to buy it for her", would you, personally, always use pour instead of à to say that? Can you think of contexts where you would prefer to use acheter à instead of acheter pour (when using this meaning of "for someone")?
    – silph
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 10:05
  • @silph It is difficult to say why people make such choices; we might have to delve into the psychology of the matter. One reason could be that there would be, insinuating itself from some time back, a shift in the apprehension of the word "pour", to the effect that it would be coming to understate a particularization (pour lui, pour elle, mais pas pour les autres (ou pas pour l'autre)). Another could be that the users of the language shy away from a certain specificity, as they tend to shy away from formality; there is such a "linguistic complex" as "feeling too specific", (1/2)
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 10:25
  • @silph and the culture does nourish it.//The usual way would be "Sam n'a pas le sixième livre de la série Harry Potter ! Je vais le lui acheter.". You wouldn't, definitely, say "Je l'acheter pou/à Sam". However, given that the person has not been mentioned in the context you can say either "Je vais acheter le sixième Harry Potter à Sam.", but in my opinion, "pour" is better. No, I can't think, offhand, of a contexte where "à" is preferable. (2/2)
    – LPH
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 10:34
  • Sorry, but your first sentence in English is not understandable and some of the others aren't either.
    – Lambie
    Commented Aug 7, 2021 at 15:15

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