Grammar In Behalf Of vs. On Behalf Of |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

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.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

33 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!

  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.

  5. Loukas says:

    I have used “on behalf of” many times. Today I came across a contract mentioning “the company aaa in behalf of company bbb sign this contract.” I thought it was wrong, as I have never before seen “in behalf of.” Now I’m confused. The meaning of the contract is that the company aaa is assisting bbb free of charge. Or is it just a wrong use of “in behalf”? Or are they using American English in which “in behalf” is common? My understanding is that it should read “on behalf of,” as the aaa company is acting as an agent of bbb company.

    • As the post explains, both phrases are grammatically correct and have subtle differences. In behalf of means “for the benefit, advantage, or interest of” in acting as an agent, friend, or benefactor. That is how the contract should be interpreted.

  6. Bibay says:

    Thank you very much, now I know how to use these words. It helps me a lot.

  7. Ana says:

    Is the expression
    I am corresponding on behalf of “Name”
    an acceptable expression to start an e-mail you write on behalf of someone or some institution?

    Thank you.

  8. Ivett Perez-Lopez says:

    Is this correct?

    I am corresponding on behalf of Mr. XXX, the summary of the President’s comments at Executive Officers and Senior Managers meeting on August, 5/2019.

  9. isabelle says:

    Which of the following is correct?

    on behalf of the Brown and Wright family I want to thank you…..
    on behalf of the Brown and Wrights families I want to thank you….

    • If you are referring to two separate families, “Brown and Wright families” is correct. In the case of a couple whose separate last names are Brown and Wright identifying as one family, write “Brown and Wright family.” Also, our Rule 4a of Commas recommends a comma following introductory phrases. Therefore, a comma is necessary after the word families or family.

  10. Silvia Helena Marcondes de Andrade Santos says:

    Thank you for the thorough explanation!

  11. Chile says:

    This is the best explanation of the difference between “on behalf of” and “in behalf of” that I have read. Thank you.

  12. Debora.Sihombing says:

    Thank you for the explanation, it’s quite clear. But can I write “Medical Claim on behalf of Mr. Y” in the clear sleeves when I want to give it to my director as a representative of my GM?

  13. Jane says:

    It’s quite confusing, when i googled the differnce of ‘in’ and ‘on’ behalf, it appeared, in behalf means representing someone and on behalf means representing a company or institution. Could we just refer on that explanation?

  14. Bill says:

    Long ago, it was explained to me that saying “In (the) behalf of the Smith family” suggests that I am speaking for the family’s benefit and that I am a member of that family. Saying “On (the) behalf,” on the other hand, suggests that I am speaking for the Smiths but that I am not one of them.

    • We do hear from our readers from time to time that they were taught differently from some of the rules and guidelines we recommend. Of course language does change over time. And sometimes memories are imperfect. Please be assured that we continually and thoroughly research the leading references on English grammar and punctuation in recommending best practices.

  15. Ax Me No Questions says:

    In Behalf of One Sick is the title of a prayer in Lutheran Prayer Book. (Kurtz, 1852) Your article evidences our lost literary refinements.

  16. Ryan Beegee says:

    Thanks much for the discussion on the difference between “in behalf of” and “on behalf of.” These phrases are often used/misused/confused in the Philippines.

  17. Evangelist Jordan says:

    Once the Lord said to me regarding my husband, “Now you’re loving him the way I do. While he’s sleeping, I’m working in his behalf.”
    I checked to see if the grammar was correct when I retold the incident. Thank you for affirming my choice!

  18. Joseph B says:

    I am Canadian. I have a degree in communications (journalism and technical writing). I have never heard of “in behalf of” in my life. Another friend of mine who is a language arts tutor (and also has a degree in journalism) had never heard of “in behalf of” either. We both see the difference and appreciate it. I’m seeing in the comments that “in behalf” is not known in British English. I guess it’s not in Canadian English either.

    I’ve asked another friend of mine with a master’s degree in technical writing if he has heard it.

  19. Mimi Masters says:

    I am so happy to have discovered and am delighted with your clear, simple explanation of the difference in meaning between “in” and “on” behalf of. I will be visiting often. Thank you very much for your wonderful help!

  20. Ann says:

    To my American ear, “in behalf of” is less familiar than “on behalf of,” but either one could be replaced with “for,” right?
    In the last year or so I’ve heard many journalists use “on behalf of” to mean “by,” as in “The examination record indicated he had had a heart attack, but it was an error on behalf of the doctor.” (Intending to mean it was the doctor’s error.)
    I hear this usage more every day among newscasters, and it strikes me as significantly misleading. Is it actually acceptable or should they be saying “on the part of” instead?

    • says:

      Whether the phrase could be replaced with “for” depends on the specific sentence. For example, we agree that the statement “the attorney spoke on behalf of the plaintiff” could just as well be expressed as “the attorney spoke for the plaintiff.” Legalese also typically adds rather than subtracts words.

  21. RLM says:

    As reflected in several of the comments above the phrase “in behalf of” is exceedingly rare. I, as a 50+ year native speaker of American English, have never encountered it. A number of the dictionaries I have consulted do not include it. It seems to me that the explanation given in this article, while plausible, is an effort to give a meaning to a phrase that is used so infrequently that there can be no possible consensus as to its meaning. It’s notable that the article gives no examples of its use in public discourse or literature. As such, I think it should simply be considered a variant of — and perhaps an erroneous variant of — “on behalf of.” If “for the benefit of” in the intended meaning, then the speaker or writer should say “for the benefit of,” which is a very familiar phrase with a very clear literal meaning.

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