On/Off: Prepositions Part two
Chris Sawyer | Tuesday, December 01, 2015
The second chapter of our prepositions blog; the frequently used, myriad guises of the simple On/Off.
On most frequently has a literal, spatial sense; either static (be / lie / sit / sprawl / stand / stay / wait, etc. on the bus / on
a bed / on a bike / on a chair / on a horse /
on a plane / on the platform /
on a train, or with movement: climb
on the wall / get on the bus / jump
on the train / put a book on the shelf. With verbs of movement, it is also possible to use onto instead of on , particularly if some difficulty is involved:
- She finally climbed onto the plateau, utterly exhausted.
- He pulled himself onto the back of the lorry.
We can say that someone is on
holiday / on a journey / on a trek / on
a cruise / ona trip / travelling on business / on a training course, and that someone is on a board of directors / on
a committee / on a panel / on a short list. We can take
on work or responsibility for someone or something, while obligations, tax and so on can be imposed on
or be incumbent on people:
Verbs followed by on, with no change in meaning to the verb, include concentrate / congratulate someone / depend / insist / rely on someone or something. We can also be dependent or reliant on someone or something.
- She was away on a business trip.
- I'm on the shortlist for the top job.
- Of course, it will mean taking on a lot more responsibility.
- They've increased the tax on cigarettes.
Similarly, we talk about a dependence / reliance / insistence on something and and give someone our congratulations on something:
After verbs of motion,
off can mean
- He should concentrate more on his work.
- Congratulations on your promotion!
- She insisted on paying the bill.
- We are completely dependent on our generator for electricity.
- I'm relying on you.
Other verbs followed by on usually have a meaning of
continue, e.g. drive on
(continue driving) / hurry on / march on / pass on / rattle
on / read on / ride
on/ rush on / stroll
on / walk on . Similarly, we can carry on / go on / keep on working, walking, trying (continue):
- Don't stop. Just drive on.
- He was rattling on (talking) about the need to improve the firm's public profile.
- Though tired, she read on to the end of the chapter.
- He keeps on interrupting me.
- Go on talking. I'm listening.
With a number of verbs, off is simply the opposite of
on : switch / turn off
lights, the TV, the heating, etc / jump off (or on
) a platform / go off (or come on ) stage; take clothes
off (or put them
- We set off on our journey, full of optimism.
- They ran off when they saw the police.
- The cowboy rode off into the sunset.
We can also
set off (activate) a fire alarm or set
off (provoke) a series of events:
After a few verbs, off can suggest a decline. Food can go off (go bad), numbers can drop off or fall of
f (go down).
- The assassination of the Archduke set off a series of consequences which led to the First World War.
- They set off the burglar alarm.
The Grammar blog is written by Stephen Smith, who has been a teacher with OISE for over 10 years.