Is there a difference between "essential to someone to do something" and "essential for someone to do something". When I searched in Yahoo I found that both are possible. There is a cloze-test question below which was asked in a national language exam in Turkey in November, 2005 called KPDS. Look at the 23rd question. The Exam Board doesn't publish questions and answers. What do you think the answer is? and is it normal for a national exam board to use passages taken from the internet?

Intellectualization is an attempt to gain detachment from a stressful situation by confronting it in abstract, intellectual terms. This kind of defense is frequently a necessity for people who must (21) ....... life-and-death matters in their daily jobs. The doctor Who is continually confronted with human suffering cannot afford to become emotionally involved with (22) ....... patient. In fact, a certain amount of detachment may be essential (23) ......... the doctor to function competently. This kind of intellectualization is a problem only when it (24) ....... such a pervasive life-style (25) ....... individuals cut themselves off from all emotional experiences.

21. A) come apart B) use up C) show off D) turn down E) deal with

22. A) another B) some C) each D) few E) more

23. A) in B) with C) to D) for E) by

24. A) would become B) becomes C) became D) will become E) used to become

25. A) when B) if C) whether D) unless E) that

Usually both to & for are used with essential, like

Food is essential to all animals.

Food is essential for all animals.

But in question 23, for looks more suitable because of the following part to function competently.
Let's see. For question 23 I think it is more suitable to use (D). Can't really give you the grammatical reasoning. Sorry about that.

In public examinations, passages from renowned publications are sometimes used for comprehention or multiple choices sections. They will be given proper references accordingly. However, I think it is still uncommon to use passages from the Internet. It will be left to the question setters discretion.
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The meaning, as I see it, is:

A certain amount of detachment may be essential to the doctor for the doctor to function competently.

It's now a question of what to delete. We can delete the phrase "to the doctor",
which specifies to whom the detachment is essential. Here we are deleting a prepositional phrase in the main clause.
The resulting sentence says the detachment is essential in general, not specifically to the doctor.

"A certain amount of detachment may be essential for the doctor to function competently."

Or we can delete the phrase "for the doctor", which specifies who will be functioning competently. Here we are deleting
the subject of the embedded nonfinite clause ("for - to -" clause). The resulting sentence says that the detachment is
not generally essential, but essential specifically to the doctor.

"A certain amount of detachment may be essential to the doctor to function competently."

I favor the second version over the first. "detachment" seems to be required of a person, and it seems necessary
(in my opinion) to say to whom the detachment applies. Secondly, it is easier to infer the second prepositional phrase
from the first than the other way around. Therefore, the second prepositional phrase ('for the doctor') is more easily
expendable without a loss of clarity.

All in all, it's much too prescriptive for such an exam
then Calif Jim, are you for ""A certain amount of detachment may be essential to the doctor to function competently." we, takers of this test, will never know which one they (test-makers) deleted. but personally I thought they are for "for" and I chose "for". without knowing your explanations of course. acted according to my intuitions.

can one claim that this question is wrong on the ground that both alternatives are equally correct?
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Yes, I'm for "essential to the doctor". Nevertheless, I am implying (as you explicitly state) that the test-taker cannot know which of the two phrases was deleted. Therefore both alternatives are correct. It is a matter of great subtlety to determine which of the two is better, however. Even native speakers will disagree. I think the question is inappropriate because it's bound to be ineffective. The test item will simply illicit random responses depending on the style preferences of the student. It will not separate students who are excellent at English from students who are miserable at it, which is, after all, the point of the exam.

thank you Jim if you don't mind my calling you so.
You certainly may call me Jim! It's my name.
Sometimes I'm CalifJim; sometimes I'm California Jim; sometimes I'm Jim; sometimes I'm CJ!

As we say here, "You can call me just about anything but late to dinner"! Emotion: smile
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