ENGLISCH/870: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (173) On Behalf Of (SB)


173. On /in behalf of ...

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I would like to know the exact meaning of the expression: "On behalf of..." which British people seem to use very frequently. In my opinion this sounds rather posh or snobbish, at least very distinctive, and instinctively I would think, that it has nothing to do with the person in question and is mainly used to keep the distance.

Thank you

Ben H. (from Tanzania, Africa)


Dear Mr H.

You are absolutely right. The expression "on behalf of" is fairly formal. I would say, if someone does something "on your behalf" he does it as your representative. For example at a school meeting the headmaster might say:

"On behalf of the school community and all the teachers I would like to thank you for coming here today ..."

The person speaking is speaking not for herself but is representing all of the school community and the teachers.

"On behalf of the school community and all the teachers ..."

But I was thinking of another example. Just imagine the following scene during a prize-giving ceremony: The winner doesn't show up and so his beautiful wife steps forward, smiles and says to the prize-giving committee:

"Unfortunately, John is not here today because he's ill. But I'm happy to accept the prize on his behalf."

The speaker makes clear, that she will accept Johns prize for him, because John is ill and cannot accept the prize himself.

So that is the phrase: "On behalf of", or "on someone's behalf" which means to be the representative of somebody. Actually you could use the simple word "for" instead, like:

"For the whole of the school community and all the teachers..."

"...I'm happy to accept the prize for John."

But you must admit, "on behalf of" sounds a lot better. Even if you are going to speak for yourself the phrase "on my behalf" gives a more sophisticated impression than the selfish demand "for myself".

And one more point: In American English they use a different preposition. The Americans say: "in behalf of someone" whereas British English says "on behalf of someone"

All right? I think I am speaking on your behalf if I'm giving you the advise not to worry too much about this expression. And on behalf of myself and the Gobbledygook team I thank you very much for your letter.


Miranda Gobbledygook

7 October 2009