The Grammarphobia Blog

Does this excite you?

Q: Why does everyone say “excited for” instead of “excited about”? I started hearing this from my girls and now everybody—adults included—does it! Did I miss something? I am not excited for correct grammar but I am excited about it.

A: We’ve also noticed a jump in the use of “excited for” in contexts that would normally call for “excited about” or “excited by.” This has made us wonder what’s happened to the prepositions that usually follow “excited” in idiomatic usage.

The tendency to choose “excited for” seems especially common in sportswriting, or that’s our impression. Here’s a sampling of August headlines:

“Howard … excited for ‘fresh start’ in L.A.” (CBSSports.com) … “Kobe ‘excited’ for new-look Lakers” (New York Daily News) … “Medlen excited for first start in two years” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution) … “Michael Phelps is excited for football season” (NBCSports.com) … “Fans excited for Olympics ‘Super Saturday’ ” (the Telegraph, London).

Sports editors aren’t the only perpetrators, though. This headline appeared in August on CNN’s Political Ticker: “Ryan: ‘Excited’ for a campaign about budget.”

But as the story itself showed, what Rep. Paul Ryan actually said was “Yes I’m excited about that.” So while Ryan himself used “excited about,” the CNN headline used “for.”

In all those cases, we would have advised the headline writers to choose “about” or “by” instead of “for.”

That’s because in idiomatic English, “excited for” means excited on someone’s behalf, as in “You’re engaged? We’re so excited for you!”

But to be “excited about” something means to look forward to it, whether eagerly or anxiously. Examples: “You must be so excited about the wedding” … “Don’t get all excited about the price tag.”

“Excited” also commonly appears with “by,” as in “The dog snapped because it was excited by the cat,” and “Foot fetishists are excited by shoes.”

And “excited” can be accompanied by “at,” as in “Mom got excited at the thought of becoming a grandmother,” and “Mom and Dad were excited at the prospect of grandchildren.”

So in summary, when we’re talking about what excites us—the object of our excitement—we generally use “excited about” or “excited by” or “excited at.” But when we’re excited on someone’s else’s behalf, we use “excited for.”

Of course, “excited” isn’t always followed by an object. Other prepositions enter the picture when we describe where, when, or how the excitement happens.

Examples: “The kids got excited at the playground” … “We were excited after hearing the news” … “Little Jimmy was excited to the point of exhaustion” … “He was excited beyond belief” … “Woofie gets too excited around children.”

Sometimes “for” is used in this sense: “The press was excited for about three days” … “She got excited for no good reason.”

“Excited” in all these cases is a participial adjective—that is, a past participle of the verb “excite,” functioning as an adjective—accompanied by a prepositional phrase.

But as is often the case with prepositions, there’s no particular set of grammatical rules about what goes or doesn’t go with “excited.”

What we’ve described are traditional uses that have become idiomatic. And as we all know, idiomatic usages can change if new ones become widespread enough.

By the way, the adjectival use of “excited” has been around since the 17th century, but it was initially used to describe the agitation of a seismographic instrument, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

It wasn’t used in the emotional sense until the mid-19th century and in the sexual sense until the late 19th century, according to published references in the OED.

The only adjectival example with a preposition, from a 1919 issue of the Biological Journal, describes a male guinea pig who emerges from long isolation and “becomes sexually excited by the presence of any female.”

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