How ‘In Behalf of’ Differs from ‘On Behalf of’

www.RuthlessEditor.comI’ve wondered from time to time about the difference between in behalf of and on behalf of. This recent post from Daily Writing Tips on sheds light on the nuance of difference between them.

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 city council opened a new food pantry in behalf of the city’s underserved residents.

The foundation raised more than $250,000 in behalf of refugees of foreign wars.

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.

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Kathy Watson

Kathy Watson has a love/hate relationship with grammar; she loves words and the punctuation that helps them make sense, yet she hates those pesky rules. A self-proclaimed ruthless editor, she prefers standard usage guidelines of The Associated Press Stylebook. Her easy-to-use Grammar for People Who Hate Rules helps people write and speak with authority and confidence. She encourages and welcomes questions and comments. (Email)

2 thoughts on “How ‘In Behalf of’ Differs from ‘On Behalf of’

  1. AvatarCharles Myhill

    I live in Canada now and have never heard ‘in behalf’ used here or in Australia, either. But you know how these things work; I’ll keep my ears open and hear it said everywhere now.

    1. Kathy WatsonKathy Watson Post author

      Charles, I appreciate your feedback. You are not the only person I’ve heard from who is not familiar with ‘in behalf of.’ I’ll see what other comments I get and will share them in a future email or post.

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