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There are many similarities and quite a few differences between the two expressions. Here are the differences I've come up with.

Only "except" can be followed by an if- conditional clause:

"” My car is at your disposal, except/*except for if you want to lend it to your brother

Both expressions can be followed by prepositional phrases that are adverbials:

"” I felt good all last evening except/except for after that huge meal

"” The ground is dry except/except for by the pond

But "except for" can't be used with "by" if "by" signals the agent of an action:

"” The winner was roundly praised, except by/*except for by his girl friend, who was furious about something

A major difference between "except" and "except for" is that "except" can be followed by a that-clause. For example

"” I'd be glad to to lend you the $1,000, except/*except for that my credit card is maxed out and I have a lot of bills overdue

In informal English you can omit "that," in which case only "except" is OK:

"” I'd be glad to to lend you the $1,000, except/*except for my credit card is maxed out and I have a lot of bills overdue

In order to use "except for" you would have to add "the fact that":

"” I'd be glad to to lend you the $1,000, except for the fact that my credit card is maxed out and I have a lot of bills overdue

Often "except" is OK with gerunds, but not always. These are OK:

"” I don't have any plans for the weekend except/except for going to the spa one afternoon

"” Ella can't remember anything about her first visit to the dentist at age six, except/except for biting his hand

The reverse is true in these cases; only "except for" is OK:

"” She handled herself with grace except for/*except dropping the sacramental wine

"” Except for/*except not knowing the principal export of Bhutan, I aced the geography quiz

I think the difference is that in the second group the gerund isn't a direct object, as it is in the first group. This is a preliminary conclusion and merits further investigation.

Marilyn

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