ADVOCATE vs. ADVOCATE FOR

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., advocating equal rights for all.

Hang on tight, everyone. Here’s another language rant. This one’s about a widespread example of English usage in need of improvement: writing advocate for instead of, simply, advocate, where advocate is a verb.

I believe the confusion originates in this word’s ability to serve as both noun and verb.

When used as a noun, advocate is usually followed by the prepositions of or for. Examples:

  • Martin Luther King was a passionate advocate of equal rights for all Americans.
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch was a strong advocate for the accused.

Now let’s look at both examples, but change the sentences so as to use advocate as a verb.

  • Martin Luther King passionately advocated equal rights for all Americans.
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch strongly advocated the innocence of the accused.

Gregory Peck (left), in the role of Atticus Finch in the film To Kill a Mockingbird, advocating the innocence of the accused.

Note that in both verb sentences, advocate is not followed by for. That’s how the verb “advocate” is supposed to be used. Without “for.”

While we often see and hear advocate for (where advocate is a verb), frequent usage does not necessarily make good usage.

Lest I be perceived as a nitpicker, let me cite The New York Times in support of my view. It calls advocate for an “ungainly construction” and criticizes the following examples, among others, from writing on its own pages:

  • the Natural Resources Defense Council, which advocates for farmland preservation
  • the Freelancers Union, which advocates for the rights of contingent workers

Advocate, explains the Times, “is a transitive verb that should take a direct object. You advocate limited government; you don’t advocate FOR limited government. If ‘advocate’ alone doesn’t sound right, consider alternatives like ‘work for,’ ‘campaign for’ or ‘press for.’ ” To those suggestions, I would add support, encourage and call for.

I rest my case.

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