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I work for county government. I deal with questions of “eligibility” for various programs and benefits on a daily basis. About 2 years ago I began reading and hearing what to me appears to be a new grammatical invention. It involves the use of the “eligible to” + a noun as in “He is eligible to Social Security”. To my ear this sounds very odd indeed. I am accustomed to “He is eligible . . . ” followed by a verb in infinitive form (“ . . . to receive), or by “for” + article + a noun (“ . . . for a bonus”). Do my 60 year-old ears need de-waxing?
I am surprised to see a lot of similar examples on the internet. I wholeheartedly agree with you both on this matter: eligible to a benefit sounds off. But my ears are about as long in the lobe as yours, jclellen.
There is one use of eligible to + noun, possibly notable, that uses both to and for: the phrase to be eligible to X for Y where X is a ruling entity and Y is a benefit.
He is eligible to [the] Social Security [Administration] for benefits.
She is eligible to the IRS for the deduction.
Having said that, the US Constitution contains the following language [emphasis mine]:
No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.
US Constitution, Article II, Section 1
But this use sounds archaic to my ear. A lot of the contemporary uses seem better suited to the phrase entitled to. Perhaps this use of eligible to is by analogy to entitled to.
I would not use eligible to + noun in my speech or writing.[edit: added the following] I just looked up eligible in the dictionary. Novel! It reminded me that eligible derives from the Latin to elect. This constitutional use, and possibly other legal uses, of the word eligible might be better understood in the vernacular as electable. In that use, eligible to the office (aka. electable to the office) makes good sense.
Such uses that do not include the idea of election still make no sense to me.