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In English, it is common to use the preposition “for” in situations where the intended meaning is “to prevent/eliminate (something)” (e.g. “I took a pill for the pain.”).

In German, it seems to me that “gegen” sounds better than “für” (z.B. “Ich habe eine Tablette gegen den Schmerz genommen.”). Is this correct? Is it more appropriate to use “gegen” or “für” in this type of sentence?

I’m aware of this question, but I couldn’t find a definite answer, especially one concerning the example I gave (the examples there are quite different in meaning and actually relate to situations where “against” would be very much out of place in English (whereas “a pill against the pain” sounds a little strange but still reasonable enough).

I am interested in both formal and informal language, so if there’s a difference I’d also like to know.

Vielen Dank! 🙂

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für

  1. The word »für« together with a form of sein (to be) means for in the sense of supporting something or someone:

    Das Geld ist für die Kinder. (The money is for the children.)

    This means:

    • The money is dedicated to the children.
    • The purpose of the money is to support the children.
  2. In combination with other verbs, it sometimes is used to express some kind of goal that you try to achieve:

    Erich betet für den Frieden. (Erich prays for peace.)

  3. It also can express someone who benefits from what you do:

    Maria arbeitet für Peter. (Maria works for Peter)

  4. You can also have another object:

    Magna baut Autos für BMW. (Magna builds cars for BMW)

    The pattern is:

    Jemand tut etwas für jemanden.
    Somebody does something for somebody.

    And the next sentence fits perfectly into this pattern:

    Ich nehme eine Tablette für die Schmerzen.
    I take a pill for the pain.

    (You normally use Schmerzen in plural in situations like this.)
    Like in all other examples before, this means, that the pain is the beneficiary of the action. It means, that the goal is to support the pain. But this is not really the goal of someone who suffers from pain and takes pills.


gegen

This word means: against

Ich nehme eine Tablette gegen die Schmerzen.
I take a pill against the pain.

This means: I take the pills to fight the pain. I want to have less pain. Supporting the pain is the exact opposite of my plans.

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    Note you can easily use both: "Wofür sind die Pillen? Die sind für mein Kopfweh" – tofro Dec 2 '17 at 18:36
  • Danke schön für die Erklärung! 🙂 – Rain Dec 3 '17 at 0:37
  • @tofro: That's is not correct. Even this becomes more and more popular in German this example is bad German. For this case the preposition gegen is correct: „Die Pillen sind gegen mein Kopfweh.“ If the asker expects that the pills are treating a disease he could ask „Wogegen sind die Pillen?“ instead. – clemens Dec 4 '17 at 18:23
  • @clemens wofür asks for a purpose - And the headache (or rather getting rid of it) is the purpose. It might not be mathematically precise, but good enough to be understood. And that's the purpose of a language. – tofro Dec 4 '17 at 19:05
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    @tofro: Ja, genau. Du sagst es mit getting rid of headaches: „Die Pillen sind dafür, die Kopfschmerzen loszuwerden.“ oder „Die Pillen sind für eine Behandlung der Kopfschmerzen, und sie helfen gegen die Kopfschmerzen.“ Ich finde, dass Hubert das sehr schön und umfassend in seinem Beitrag erklärt hat. – clemens Dec 4 '17 at 19:16
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This is to explain things to the English speaker.

The problem is that the English "for" in this context has the connotations of "because of." That is to say, "I take pills because of/for my pain." The nearest German equivalent of this "for" is "denn." As in, " Ich nehme eine Tablette, denn ich habe die Schmerzen.."

Hubert's excellent answer shows that German is much more logical in this context, so it makes much more sense to say that you take pills "gegen" (against) pain than "für" (for) it. The German, "für" would mean "for" in the sense of "in support of" or "in favor of" which makes no sense. It does not have the "because" connotations of the English "for."

  • Thank you for your answer, Tom. This is precisely what I thought, with German being so logical and all (which is one of the things I love about the language), but I wasn’t sure, hence my question. 🙂 – Rain Dec 3 '17 at 14:30

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