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

8 Comments on In Behalf Of vs. On Behalf Of

8 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!
    Does anyone agree or disagree?

  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.

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