Apply to, Apply for, and Apply with

By Maeve Maddox

How does one know which of these three idioms to use?

Does an undergraduate apply for a graduate program or to it?
Does a job applicant apply to a company or with it?

The following examples illustrate mistaken use of “apply for” and “apply with” in contexts calling for “apply to”:

Winston is applying for the teaching program at Harvard.
Interested in applying with the world’s largest retailer?
Customer Service Careers | Apply with DISH

apply to
This is the idiom to use when you are putting yourself forward as a candidate for something such as a course of study, or a job. You apply to graduate school. You apply to a company for employment. You apply to a bank’s loan department for a loan.

apply for
This is the expression to use if your intention is to obtain something. You apply for scholarship money. You apply for admission. You apply for a job.

apply with
The word with in this idiom implies agency, the means “by which” you apply. You can apply with the click of a mouse. You can apply with a printed application. You can apply with a program like Compass, or a service like Monster.

The correct usage for the three examples given above:

Winston is applying to the teaching program at Harvard.
Interested in applying to the world’s largest retailer?
Customer Service Careers | Apply to DISH

Here are some other uses of the verb apply, with and without dependent prepositions:

apply paint to a surface
apply ointment to a wound
apply oneself to one’s studies
apply a cause to a quarrel
apply a remedy to a problem
apply a rule to a situation
apply pressure to a wound
apply pressure to a person
apply one’s talents
apply a patch to a garment

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14 Responses to “Apply to, Apply for, and Apply with”

  • Deb

    The samples for mistaken and correct use are the same? Please clarify. Thanks

  • Bruce Burson

    I would prefer “apply pressure on a person” instead of “to a person.”

  • Ray

    The correct usage examples are identical to the mistaken usage examples. It looks like a case of “copy and paste” without the necessary edits.

  • Pit

    Aren’t they phrasal verbs, not idioms?

  • Ericka

    I don’t understand – the examples under, “The correct usage for the three examples given above:” are the same as the incorrect examples at the start of this article. ???

  • David B.

    The “mistaken use” examples and the “correct usage” examples shown above appear exactly the same to me. Am I missing something?

  • Dale A. Wood

    This article brings to mind the widespread misuse of the word “applicator” in advertising, etc.
    To “apply” means to put some substance or device on the outside of something else. You use an “applicator” to do this. For some examples, you use a paintbrush to apply paint to the outside of a house or to the outside of a wall (even if that wall is inside a house or an apartment). You apply ointment to a wound on your skin. You apply grease to the outside of a shaft. You apply insulation to the outside of an electric wire.
    You insert, implant, embed, inject, inclose, or include something on the inside of something else. One kind of a tool that is used to do this is an “inserter”.
    I am puzzled and disturbed by advertising companies that use the word “applicator” when “inserter” is what is needed because the process is an insertion or an implantation.

    I does go back to the problem of people’s not knowing that words have connotations as well as denotations. There are certain verbs that refer to the outsides of something, and other verbs that refer to to the insides of something. The same thing applies to their noun forms and their adjectival forms.
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    To Pit:
    “Aren’t they phrasal verbs, not idioms?”
    “Idiom” refers to the fact that the choice of the preposition is idiomatic in those phrases. Other languages have their own idiomatic uses of their prepositions.
    For example, translating prepositions from German into English is not always a simple matter of looking them up in a dictionary. You can have an idiomatic use of a German preposition that has to be translated into an idiomatic use of an English preposition, and vice-versa.
    For a simple example, the preposition “in” in German can translate to either “in” or “into” in English, and German does not have a direct equivalent of “into”. The preposition “von” can translate into either “of” or “from” (it depends on the context), and there are German jokes that rely on this duality for their humor. The joke that I am thinking of contains a reference to “Der Meistersinger von Nurnberg”. (Nuremberg)
    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    I agree with Bruce Berson: “to apply pressure on a person” is the correct and widely-used expression in English. I grew up Down South, but I have lived on the East Coast, on the West Coast, and in the Midwest, and that is what I have always heard.

    The mental picture that I have of “to apply pressure on a person” is of the old “screw-driven” printing presses of the time of Benjamin Franklin with a person underneath the press – instead of paper.
    That’s applying pressure!

  • Dale A. Wood

    “apply paint to a surface”
    I believe that this idiom also depends on the orientation of the surface.

    Horizontal surfaces:
    1. I can apply paint on the floor
    2. I can apply shingles on the roof
    3. I can apply wax on the top of the car

    Vertical surfaces:
    4. I can apply paint to the wall
    5. I can apply aluminum siding to the sides of the house
    6. I can apply wax to the sides of the truck

    English has few of these remaining – we have simplified,
    but in German, there are many verbs and phrases that apply to
    A. Things in a horizontal or vertical possition, or
    B. Things or people in a sitting or standing position.

    English has some such phrases concerning geographical locations:
    The Houses of Parliament stand along the Thames.
    The Washington Monument stands in Washington, D.C.
    New York City stands along the Hudson River and the East River.
    Hong Kong stands along the Pacific Ocean in eastern China.

    Barcelona, Marseilles, Naples, Athens, Tel Aviv, Alexandria, and Algiers lie along the Mediterranean Sea.
    Los Angeles lies along the Pacific Ocean in Southern California.
    Mumbai lies along the Indian Ocean on the west coast of India.

    I have also seen the verb “to sit” used in such situations, though I do not like it:
    Tokyo sits along the Pacific Ocean in southeastern Japan.
    Rome sits along the Mediterranean Sea in western Italy.
    Houston sits along the Gulf of Mexico in southern Texas.
    Denver sits along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado.

    D.A.W.

  • Maeve Maddox

    I failed to correct the examples. All should be “apply to.” Daniel is going to make the necessary changes. Sorry.

    I see a difference between dependent prepositions that go with a particular word and a phrasal verb.

    painting orientation: I think that even if you’re painting the floor, you’re applying paint to it.

    pressure: I think you’d apply pressure to something, but put pressure on someone.

  • Mary Hodges

    Dale A Wood mentions the incorrect use of “applicator”. I’ve never come across this. Someone who applies for a job is an applicant.

  • venqax

    @ DAW: “Barcelona, Marseilles, Naples, Athens, Tel Aviv, Alexandria, and Algiers lie along the Mediterranean Sea.”
    “Tokyo sits along the Pacific Ocean in southeastern Japan.”

    I think those are just personifications that are stylistic, not something you could call a mistake or gramatically incorrect. I do know what you mean, though about “I do not like it”. I am the same way about the past tense dove for to dive. It is not incorrect, but to me it sounds wrong and “dived” is better. I think it is another one of those false comparisons, in that case from drive/drove. But it is old and well-established nonetheless. Likewise the use of “healthy” instead of healthful meaning promoting or conducive to good health, while reserving healthy to mean in a state of good health. Hemolock can be perfectly healthy, but is never healtful if ingested.

  • venqax

    @ Mary Hodges: I have seen applicator, too. It is very commonly used in commercial-ese. I agree that it is used improperly, like DAW says, when another word would be better. But the word itself seems flawed, for some reason, even when it is used “correctly”. Meaning a tool or device used to apply something, I don’t know of another suitable word. Applier/applyer sounds even worse. Once in a while, the good-ol’ terms like doohicky, thingamajig, or even thingy seem too easily dispensed with.

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