In Behalf Of vs. On Behalf Of

Sometimes in writing and speaking we arrive at a phrase that forms a fork in the road to expression. Ideally, we can distinguish one path from the other, even if by subtlety.

Other forks pose a greater challenge. Each way looks the same, and the sounds from both are familiar. We pick our path and hope for the best, making our choice a 50-50 gamble.

The prepositional phrases in behalf of and on behalf of often present us with such potential divergence. Thus we—including reputable writers—often use them interchangeably.

A closer look, however, reveals that by definition the phrases are separated by nuance. Careful, articulate writers make mental note of the difference and reinforce proper usage with practice. Soon enough, they apply it with correct, reflexive instinct.

In behalf of means “for the benefit, advantage, or interest of” in acting as an agent, friend, or benefactor. Another way to think of it is “as helping” someone or something.

The foundation raised more than $250,000 in behalf of refugees of foreign wars.
The city council opened a new food pantry in behalf of the city’s underserved residents.
Mrs. Brown offers much in behalf of her students to help them receive scholarships.

On behalf of means “as the agent of,” “in place of,” or “on the part of.” Another way to think of it is “as representing” someone or something.

The law firm filed a suit on behalf of the three people injured by the company truck.
On behalf of all who couldn’t be here tonight, I want to say thank you for your support.
Karen has power of attorney, so she can sign the documents on behalf of her father.

Here’s an example of both phrases in the same sentence: “On behalf of the VFW, the commander will help finance the event after he knows how the funds will be used in behalf of the deceased veterans’ families.”

This should help you make the right choice of phrasal “behalf.” Simply reflect on intent (help or representation), pick your path, and move forth with extra confidence.

Posted on Tuesday, June 13, 2017, at 3:24 pm

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28 Comments on In Behalf Of vs. On Behalf Of

28 responses to “In Behalf Of vs. On Behalf Of

  1. Chad Dick says:

    Interesting that as a resident of New Zealand, and a past resident of both the UK (Scotland and England in my case) and Australia, I have never come across the phrase ‘in behalf of’ before.

  2. Ian Brown says:

    This is a new one on me!
    ‘In behalf of’ must surely be US English, because in my 65 years of speaking UK English I don’t think I have ever come across the phrase!

  3. Pam Womack says:

    I would like to know the difference between “intent” and “intention” and their correct usage. I’ve always understood that “intent” was an adjective,as in “He was intent on getting it right,” and that “intention” is a noun. Now I see (even in the article above) that intent is used as a noun, which doesn’t seem right. Can you help? I hear this misused all the time and am thinking I may have missed a grammar rule along the way. Thanks.

    • According to the online Oxford English Dictionary, intent and intention are synonymous as nouns, and intent can also be an adjective, as you mention. Our 1973 Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary also contains these uses.

      The online Merriam-Webster includes a discussion of a subtle distinction between the two words as nouns: “intention implies little more than what one has in mind to do or bring about. Intent suggests clearer formulation or greater deliberateness.”

  4. alexus says:

    I honestly am enjoying reading everything in this site! This is my first time learning that representing someone or something we use “on behalf of.” I never heard about it because even politicians use “in behalf of” every time they deliver their speeches.

  5. Loukas says:

    I have used “on behalf of” many times. Today I came across a contract mentioning “the company aaa in behalf of company bbb sign this contract.” I thought it was wrong, as I have never before seen “in behalf of.” Now I’m confused. The meaning of the contract is that the company aaa is assisting bbb free of charge. Or is it just a wrong use of “in behalf”? Or are they using American English in which “in behalf” is common? My understanding is that it should read “on behalf of,” as the aaa company is acting as an agent of bbb company.

    • As the post explains, both phrases are grammatically correct and have subtle differences. In behalf of means “for the benefit, advantage, or interest of” in acting as an agent, friend, or benefactor. That is how the contract should be interpreted.

  6. Bibay says:

    Thank you very much, now I know how to use these words. It helps me a lot.

  7. Ana says:

    Is the expression
    I am corresponding on behalf of “Name”
    an acceptable expression to start an e-mail you write on behalf of someone or some institution?

    Thank you.

  8. Estella says:

    I would like to ask in putting a signature in the emails for and on behalf of_____________ (boss), will it be appropriate or just on behalf of? What is the difference?

  9. Ivett Perez-Lopez says:

    Is this correct?

    I am corresponding on behalf of Mr. XXX, the summary of the President’s comments at Executive Officers and Senior Managers meeting on August, 5/2019.

  10. isabelle says:

    Which of the following is correct?

    on behalf of the Brown and Wright family I want to thank you…..
    on behalf of the Brown and Wrights families I want to thank you….

    • If you are referring to two separate families, “Brown and Wright families” is correct. In the case of a couple whose separate last names are Brown and Wright identifying as one family, write “Brown and Wright family.” Also, our Rule 4a of Commas recommends a comma following introductory phrases. Therefore, a comma is necessary after the word families or family.

  11. Silvia Helena Marcondes de Andrade Santos says:

    Thank you for the thorough explanation!

  12. Chile says:

    This is the best explanation of the difference between “on behalf of” and “in behalf of” that I have read. Thank you.

  13. Debora.Sihombing says:

    Thank you for the explanation, it’s quite clear. But can I write “Medical Claim on behalf of Mr. Y” in the clear sleeves when I want to give it to my director as a representative of my GM?

  14. Jane says:

    It’s quite confusing, when i googled the differnce of ‘in’ and ‘on’ behalf, it appeared, in behalf means representing someone and on behalf means representing a company or institution. Could we just refer on that explanation?

  15. Bill says:

    Long ago, it was explained to me that saying “In (the) behalf of the Smith family” suggests that I am speaking for the family’s benefit and that I am a member of that family. Saying “On (the) behalf,” on the other hand, suggests that I am speaking for the Smiths but that I am not one of them.

    • We do hear from our readers from time to time that they were taught differently from some of the rules and guidelines we recommend. Of course language does change over time. And sometimes memories are imperfect. Please be assured that we continually and thoroughly research the leading references on English grammar and punctuation in recommending best practices.

  16. Ax Me No Questions says:

    In Behalf of One Sick is the title of a prayer in Lutheran Prayer Book. (Kurtz, 1852) Your article evidences our lost literary refinements.

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