- Each version of the expression is proper – the problem lies in their misuse.
- “In behalf of” means that the target of the expression is benefitting in some way.
- “On behalf of” is used when representing another person or organization.
One of many similar expressions that cause writers (and speakers) pause, people often assume that either “in behalf of” or “on behalf of” is proper form and that the other is simply a mistake. This is not the case.
While many people incorrectly substitute one of these expressions with the other, each expression has a specific purpose. While the preposition change seems minor, it influences the relationship between the deliverer of the phrase and its recipient.
This concept is easier to understand through examples, so we will look at each phrase individually to determine what it means and how you should use it.
In Behalf Of
More than likely, people use “on behalf of” in place of “in behalf of.” One of the easiest ways to remember the purpose of “in behalf of” is that someone is doing something for someone or something else. In other words, a noun receives some benefit from an action.
- The charity raised six million dollars in behalf of starving children.
In this example, the charity has acted (raising money) to help someone else (the starving children).
- The school founded a wide variety of new clubs in behalf of the students.
The use of “in behalf” indicates the children did not requisition the founding of the clubs, but the school did it under their authority to benefit their students.
- The institute provided copies of their data and research in behalf of the American Cancer Society.
It is important to remember that this expression means that the subject of the action did it of their own volition to help someone or something else, in this case, the ACS.
On Behalf Of
Understandably, there is a lot of confusion between these two expressions with similar meanings. While “in behalf of” means doing something for someone, “on behalf of” means doing something under the representation of someone else.
Here is a comparison to illustrate:
- Michael gave up three hours of his free time in behalf of Sarah since she needed help studying.
In this situation, Michael is working with Sarah to help her improve her academics.
- The staff would like to present Tabitha with this Employee of the Month plaque on behalf of Dirty Joe’s Cafe!
The difference here is that “on behalf of” means that the staff represents Dirty Joe’s Cafe. Rather than used to describe work for the benefit of someone else, this expression means that one entity represents another, or perhaps someone is acting in place of another person or organization.
Here are some more examples of how “on behalf of” functions:
- Katha accepted the reward on behalf of her film studio.
The film studio is an organization that consists of many people. Since Katha did not solely win the award, she accepts it on behalf of all the employees working for her studio, representing that institute.
- Our organization delivers these meals on behalf of all the volunteers who donated food in behalf of the homeless.
Here is a perfect example of the difference between the two expressions as they appear within a single sentence. First, the nameless organization is a representative, as they are serving as a liaison between each person who volunteered food and the homeless to ensure proper delivery. They collected it to benefit the homeless, so “in behalf of” is appropriate.
While the difference in meaning is slight, using each of the two expressions properly can help clarify the purpose, as “on behalf of” informs the reader that an action represents an agency rather than helping that agency. When “in behalf of” appears, it becomes clear that someone is getting assistance.
However, confusing instances are rare, as the context of a sentence or situation can often clarify the intended meaning. As a result, many people use “on behalf of” for all cases and are unlikely to face reprisals.