"solution to" vs "solution for"

Please tell me the difference between “solution for” and “solution to”. According to my OALD, only “solution to” is the correct usage, but I’ve come across “solution for” many times. (in the BNC: 208 results for “solution for” and 1165 for “solution to”)
Are they used interchangeably without any differences?

Many thanks

Hello Nessie,


  1. The solution to the problem of malingering employees is installing cctv in their homes.

  2. The solution for astute employers is installing cctv in employees’ homes.


a) the solution to a problem
b) the solution for the person with the problem

All the best,


Are you saying that we cannot say the first of these?

a) the solution for the problem is…
b) the solution for the person with the problem is…

I would add a c), on reflection:

a) the solution to a problem
b) the solution for the person with the problem
c) the solution for a particular outcome


I guess your answer is “yes”, right?

I feel,

a) solution for the problem
b) solution to the problem
c) solution to a problem

are all possible and a) = b) to a certain extent.

And a d), on further reflection, e.g.

d) That solution of X’s to the problem of…



  1. Furthermore, this solution of Parfit’s to the voter’s paradox is hardly going to make the residents of Wyoming happy.


My question was:

Are you saying that we cannot say this in English?

a) the solution for the problem is…

If you or I say “the solution for the problem”, it will probably go unnoticed, since we are both native speakers.

If non-native speakers say it, however, especially in contexts where their language is under scrutiny, it may well be noticed in a mildly adverse way.

So “to the problem”, which no one will notice, is the most sensible solution.


There you go again, Mr P. What is it you hope to gain here?

I see, so "“the solution for the problem” is not incorrect usage. That’s all I wanted to know.

There I go where again, old chap? :?

You missed this part:

“If non-native speakers say it, however, especially in contexts where their language is under scrutiny, it may well be noticed in a mildly adverse way.”

Some people would think it incorrect; some people would think it sloppy; some people wouldn’t notice it.


And some would notice it and find it correct, right?

Hi MrP,
Thanks a lot for your explaination :slight_smile:
I know “solution to” is the better choice. However, I just have the same query as Molly about the use of “solution for” in formal English. (208 results in the BNC)
If possible, could you please clarify your post above? I just… don’t understand it very clearly (noticed and unnoticed => ?? :shock: ??)

Many thanks in advance.

One has to be careful with those results. You get examples such as this, which don’t count:

The solution for Jake is always the same, i.e. he gets pissed!
For Jake, the solution is always the same, i.e. he gets pissed!

There, there is an ellipted “to the problem” between solution and for, IMO.

Here are a few of the examples I was focusing on:

“Thus the solution for the two-cylinder problem is provided by the solution for the two-line-source problem having the same amount of charge per unit length.”

Lectures on electromagnetic theory. Solymar, L. Oxford: OUP

“The extent of inequality depends on the variation in N and, magnified by the serial correlation induced by al in the former case, but moderated by the term. The solution for the general case follows the same approach, and is left as an exercise.”

Lectures on public economics. Stiglitz, Joseph E and Atkinson, Anthony B. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Book Company

‘The Russians refer to “buka”, the Welsh “barog” means spiteful, while the Scots usher forward “boggle-bos”, “bucca-bos”, “bodachs” and “bugbears” as the solution for misbehaviour in very small children, especially if they refuse to go to sleep when they should.’

Myths, gods and fantasy: a sourcebook. Allardice, Pamela. Bridport, Dorset: Prism Press

Hello Nessie,

  1. The solution for X

If X is the person or thing that has the problem, #1 is fine. Thus in the BNC you’ll find:

  1. Scientists stress, however, that the best solution for Europe’s butterflies would be to prevent further loss of habitat.

— i.e. the best solution from the point of view of Europe’s butterflies.

If X is an outcome, #1 is also fine (also from the BNC):

  1. This split barrier is an ideal solution for keeping out undesirables such as motorbikes while giving room for wheelchairs to pass through easily.

Also, where there is a “for” + infinitive structure (BNC):

  1. It seemed a sensible solution for us to share this room.

— i.e. that we should share the room.

Also, where “for” relates to a pronoun (BNC):

  1. We might conjecture that the general form of the solution for which we seek is as follows.

Or where “for” relates to time:

  1. He thought about the solution for 10 minutes.

Or where “solution” relates to liquids, as in many of the BNC examples:

  1. In the neophobia test (panel A) the subjects were allowed access to the saline solution for 10 min.

But in this kind of context, “solution for the problem” may sound odd to some people:

  1. The solution for the problem is X.

Instead, they’ll expect:

  1. The solution to the problem is X.

To answer M’s earlier question: if you say #8, some people will think “I wonder why he didn’t say solution to”. But if you say #9, no one will think “I wonder why he didn’t say solution for”.

All the best,


Nessie, if you say “who” when some people expect “whom”, you’ll survive. If you follow Mr P’s every demand - which is just what his messages really carry - you’ll not understand English usage beyond his idiolect/sociolect.

If you look at my last post, you’ll find that there are no demands; only explanations.

You are perfectly free to post your own explanations, if you think that any of mine are inaccurate.

Best wishes,


[color=violet]Thank you very much, MrP. I understand your explanation very clearly :slight_smile:

[color=violet]Hi Molly,
First of all, thank you very much for your comments :slight_smile: Actually I am a highschool student, and English grammar rules (also rules in language style, vocabulary,etc.) in Vietnamese schools are (and must be) followed very strictly (most of them are correct, but some are quite odd and unnatural :roll: ), so though I know there are usages that are used (or sometimes commonly used) in real life), I can’t use them at school (very dangerous! :? ) That’s why I appreciate MrP’s explanation very much.

But of course, I also appreciate all your ideas, explanation and comments
Thank you once again.
Nessie :slight_smile:

Beware! Closet prescriptivists abound.