Clap him or clap for him: all the explanation you need

If you think ‘clap for him’ is correct but ‘clap him’ is not, this discourse is for you; if you think ‘clap for him’ sounds weird and ‘clap him” is the standard, this is also for you. Confused? Don’t be. Take a deep breath and read on. We will look at how and where different speakers (all of which speak English as a primary language) use the above expression, with a new insight for everyone, no matter which style you use. Let’s get to it right away.

Every discourse I came across on this subject tends to be from a particular point of view (of a particular set of speakers), but we will pull them all together here. All facts are verifiable, credible and will make your mind nimble.

‘Clap’ is both a noun and a verb. As a verb, it means to hit your hands together to make a short loud sound for attention, or admiration(applaud); to hit someone lightly to express pleasure; or to put someone or something somewhere quickly (e.g. They clapped him into the bunker). As a noun, it means the act of performing the above actions, or the sound of an explosion, especially thunder (e.g He was frightened by a clap of thunder).

The verb form of ‘clap’ in the context of ‘applaud’, used with or without ‘for’ + human names or personal pronouns (clap for + Nneka/him/her/them or clap + Nneka /him/her/them) is what has generated some divergence of opinions. As a non-native speaker of English, I discovered that the pattern is not the same for every native speaker because American English has a form of it and British has another, while Australians and Canadians follow one of these patterns, and one wonders why the other uses it differently.

In British English, ‘clap’ is generally used without ‘for’ as a verb, but could be used with ‘for’ as a noun. This was directly confirmed by the British Council and evident in the British National Corpus. Only one entry is found in the corpus where ‘clap’ (verb) was used with ‘for’ before a name (…let’s all clap for Neil…)

Examples:

  1. We should clap Nefertiti for the accurate answer. (as a verb)
  2. Let’s clap her for that wonderful performance. (as a verb)
  3. Give a clap for Paul as he stands to discuss the subject. (as a noun)

In American English, as confirmed by native speakers and the Corpus of Contemporary American English, ‘clap for’ is both natural and acceptable.  Thus, the British form is not evident in the corpus.

Examples:

  1. You can clap for me if you want to.
  2. Christine decided to clap for the musician and we all joined to make him happy.

Similarly, the Corpus of Canadian English, The Australian Writer’s Marketplace Online and speakers from both countries (though Australia is also a continent) confirmed the use of ‘clap for’ naturally.

However, examples of ‘clap for’ (as used in American, Canadian and Australian English) are not seen in the Cambridge Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary, Macmillan Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Dictionary and Collins Dictionary. The related examples given are: clap him, clapped the marcher, clapped his performance, clapped for joy, etc.

Moreover, Cambridge Dictionary’s reply to my question was:

“Yes, it does sound a little odd (the ‘for’ element). If you were asking an audience to applaud a guest, you’d be more likely to say something like ‘Please give x a big hand’ or ‘Please put your hands together for x’. You wouldn’t tend to use the word ‘clap’. If you were reporting what had happened, you would probably say something like ‘They clapped/applauded when x entered.’ So although ‘clap for’ isn’t absolutely wrong, it’s not quite natural sounding either.”

Consequently, ‘give a big hand’, ‘a round of applause for’, ‘put your hands together for’, etc. have been suggested to escape this diversity, but we can’t run away from any aspect of language— it will always find us.

In summary, these are the facts: renowned dictionaries support the British form as the standard (clap him/her; a clap for him/her) and find it unnatural to say ‘clap for him/her’; Americans, Canadians and Australians find it quite natural to say ‘clap for him/her’ and find the British form weird.

Now that you know…

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