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Prepositions used in Idioms

Below is an alphabetical list of prepositions used in idiomatic expressions. The following selection of idioms emphasizes those used in North American English. The meaning of each idiom is indicated after the colon.


    not at all:  not in any way
    at all times:  always
    at any rate:  whatever happens
    keep someone at arm's length:  avoid becoming closely involved with someone
    at close quarters:  very near
    at one's disposal:  to be used as one wishes
    at a distance:  not near
    at fault:  causing something wrong
    at first:  at the beginning
    see at a glance:  see immediately
    at hand:  near; readily available
    at last:  finally, after some delay
    at a loss:  uncertain what to do or say
    at the mercy of:  without defense against
    at the moment:  now
    at once:  immediately
    at present:  now
    at rest:  not moving
    at risk:  threatened by danger or loss
    at short notice:  with little warning
    at stake:  to be won or lost
    at a stretch:  continuously
    at that rate:  under those circumstances
    at this point:  at this place; at this moment
    at the wheel:  in control


    behind the scenes:  (of persons) influencing events secretly; (in a theater) behind the stage
    behind schedule:  not on time


    be beside oneself:  lose one's self-control
    beside the point:  irrelevant


    read between the lines:  deduce a meaning that is not actually expressed


    beyond help:  unable to be helped
    beyond a joke:  too annoying to be amusing
    beyond reproach:  perfect; blameless


    by accident:  not deliberately
    by all means:  by any possible method
    bit by bit:  gradually
    by chance:  by accident; without planning
    by courtesy of:  with the help or permission of
    win by default:  win because of lack of competition
    by degrees:  gradually
    perform by ear:  perform (music) by listening to the sound, without referring to written music
    by hand:  without the use of machinery
    by heart:  from memory
    little by little:  gradually
    by means of:  by using
    by mistake:  accidentally
    by no means:  not at all
    one by one:  one at a time
    by oneself:  alone
    side by side:  beside one another
    by the way:  incidentally (used to introduce an unrelated topic of conversation)
    by word of mouth:  orally


    once and for all:  for the last time (e.g. used when giving someone a final warning)
    for certain:  definitely; without doubt
    for a change:  for the sake of variety
    for example:  as an illustration
    for fun:  for the sake of enjoyment
    for good:  permanently
    for good measure:  in addition to the necessary amount
    for instance:  for example; as an illustration
    for keeps:  (colloquial) permanently
    for a living:  as a profession
    for now:  temporarily
    run for office:  compete for an elected position
    for one thing:  because of one reason (out of several)
    for the sake of:  for the benefit of; for the purpose of
    for sale:  intended to be sold
    for sure:  definitely (more colloquial than for certain)
    food for thought:  something which makes one think
    play for time:  delay doing something in the hope that the situation will improve
    for the time being:  until some other arrangement is made
    ask for trouble:  act in a dangerous or foolish way
    for a while:  for a period of time
    word for word:  exactly as said or written


    from afar:  from a distance
    from all sides:  from all directions
    from head to foot:  (of a person) completely; all over
    from scratch:  from the beginning
    from time to time:  occasionally


    in addition to:  as well as
    in advance:  before
    be in agreement with:  have the same opinion as
    in any case:  whatever happens
    in brief:  in a few words
    in bulk:  (of goods) in large amounts; not in packages
    be in charge of:  have responsibility for
    in common:  shared by all members of a group
    in control:  having the power to direct something
    in the course of:  during
    in danger:  likely to be harmed
    in a daze:  unable to think clearly; confused
    in debt:  owing money
    in demand:  (of goods or persons) desired by many people
    in depth:  (investigate something) thoroughly
    in detail:  (explain something) thoroughly
    in disgrace:  regarded with disapproval because of having done something wrong
    in the distance:  far away
    in doubt:  uncertain
    in duplicate:  so that there are two identical copies (of a document)
    in earnest:  seriously; in a determined way
    in effect:  (of rules) operating
    in the end:  finally
    in fact:  in reality; really
    in fashion:  fashionable; accepted as being the most desirable and up to date
    in favor of:  supporting (an idea)
    in flames:  burning, with visible flames
    in a flash:  very quickly; suddenly
    in full:  without omitting anything
    in general:  usually; as a whole
    hand in hand:  (of persons) holding hands; (of related situations) occurring together
    in a hurry:  trying to accomplish something quickly
    in jest:  as a joke
    in kind:  (payment) in goods rather than in money
    in itself:  without reference to anything else
    in league with:  (of persons) joined together with (usually for a dishonest purpose)
    be in the limelight:  be the focus of attention; receive great publicity
    in the long run:  in the end; eventually
    in the long term:  looking ahead to the distant future
    leave someone in the lurch:  abandon someone who is in a difficult situation
    be in the minority:  be in the smaller of two groups
    in mint condition:  (of manufactured goods) perfect; brand-new
    in a minute:  soon
    in a moment:  soon; quickly
    set something in motion:  start something going
    nip something in the bud:  put an end to something before it gets properly started
    in no time:  very soon; very quickly
    in order of:  arranged according to
    in order to:  for the purpose of
    in part:  to some degree
    in particular:  especially
    in power:  (of a political party) holding office
    in practice:  able to do something well because of recent practice; in reality (opposite of in theory)
    in print:  (of a book) printed and available from the publisher
    in private:  not in front of other people
    in public:  openly; not in private
    in reality:  really
    in reserve:  saved for later use
    in retrospect:  looking back over past events
    in return for:  as repayment for
    be in the right:  be correct
    in season:  (of fruit or vegetables) readily available at that time of year
    in a second:  soon; quickly
    in short supply:  scarce; not easily obtainable
    in sight:  able to be seen
    in stock:  (of goods at a store) present and available
    in that case:  if that is true
    in theory:  ideally; according to theoretical considerations
    be in time:  not be late
    in touch with in:  communication with; informed about
    in triplicate:  so that there are three identical copies (of a document)
    be in trouble:  be in a difficult situation; be blamed or punished for doing something wrong
    in tune:  at the correct pitch
    act in unison:  act together
    in vain:  without success
    in the vicinity of:  near
    once in a while:  occasionally
    in words of one syllable:  (explain something) clearly and simply
    in working order:  able to function properly
    in the wrong:  responsible for an error; guilty


    inside out:  with the inner side out; thoroughly


    paint oneself into a corner:  take a course of action which greatly narrows one's future choices of action
    go into hiding:  hide oneself
    get into a rut:  get into a fixed and uninteresting way of life
    get into trouble:  get into a difficult situation; do something deserving blame or punishment


    of course:  certainly; as one would expect; as everyone knows
    hard of hearing:  somewhat deaf
    next of kin:  nearest relative or relatives
    of one's own accord:  voluntarily; on one's own initiative
    of one's own free will:  voluntarily; by choice
    one's point of view:  one's opinion about something
    right of way:  public right to use a path or road; (of road traffic) right to proceed before others
    rule of thumb:  a simple way to calculate what procedure to follow, based on extensive experience,
    rather than on theoretical considerations


    go off the air:  (of radio or television) stop broadcasting
    off duty:  not engaged in one's regular work
    off one's hands:  no longer one's responsibility
    off and on:  from time to time
    off the record:  say something privately, that is not to be officially recorded
    off the track:  following a wrong line of thought or action


    on account of:  because of
    be on the air:  (of radio or television) be in the process of broadcasting
    on the alert:  ready to act
    be on all fours:  (of a person) be on hands and knees
    on the average:  usually; normally
    on behalf of:  for; in the interests of
    on board:  on a ship or airplane
    on business:  as part of one's work
    on condition that:  only if; provided that
    on demand:  when asked for
    on display:  being exhibited
    on duty:  engaged in one's regular work
    on fire:  burning
    to go on foot:  to walk
    be on one's guard:  be alert and ready to meet an attack
    on hand:  available
    on loan:  lent and not yet returned
    shoot on location:  (of a movie) film in natural surroundings, not in a studio
    on the lookout:  watchful
    put something on the map:  cause something to become well-known
    get on one's nerves:  annoy; irritate
    on no account:  absolutely not
    on the one hand:  (used to introduce one side of an argument)
    on one's own:  alone; without help
    act on one's own initiative:  act independently, without orders from anyone else
    on order:  requested but not yet delivered
    on the other hand:  (used to introduce a contrasting side of an argument)
    act on principle:  do something to support a policy
    on purpose:  deliberately
    go on record:  say something which is to be officially recorded
    on sale:  being sold at a lower price than usual
    on schedule:  at the correct time; as planned or predicted
    on second thoughts:  after thinking further about something
    on a shoestring:  with a very small amount of money
    be on the spot:  be where important events are taking place; be placed in an awkward situation
    on the spur of the moment:  on a sudden impulse
    go off on a tangent:  change suddenly to a new line of thought or action
    on time:  at the correct time
    walk on tiptoe:  walk on the toes and balls of the feet
    accept something on trust:  accept something without proof
    on the verge of:  very close to; about to
    on the whole:  taking everything into consideration

Out of

    out of the blue:  unexpectedly
    out of breath:  (after running) panting from a shortage of oxygen
    out of character:  unlike a person's known character
    out of control:  not able to be regulated or guided
    out of danger:  safe
    out of date:  no longer used; old-fashioned; (of news) no longer true
    out of debt:  having paid one's debts
    be out of one's depth:  be unable to handle a situation because of lack of experience
    out of doors:  in the open air; not in a building
    out of fashion:  not fashionable; not presently in common use
    out of hand:  not under control
    out of harm's way:  safe
    out of line with:  in disagreement with
    be out of one's mind:  be insane
    out of order:  not functioning properly; (at a formal meeting) not behaving according to the rules
    out of the ordinary:  unusual
    out of place:  unsuitable
    out of practice:  unable to do something as well as one has in past, because of lack of recent practice
    out of print:  (of a book) no longer available from the publisher
    out of proportion:  too big or too small; not having the appropriate relationship to something
    out of the question:  impossible; not to be considered
    out of season:  (of fruit or vegetables) not readily available at that time of year
    out of shape:  (of persons) not in top condition because of lack of exercise
    out of sight:  hidden, not able to be seen
    out of stock:  (of goods at a store) temporarily unavailable
    out of style:  not fashionable
    out of touch:  with not in communication with; not informed about
    out of town:  having temporarily left town
    out of trouble:  not in trouble
    out of tune:  not at the correct pitch
    out of work:  no longer having employment


    to all intents and purposes:  in all important ways
    to a certain extent:  partly
    to date:  so far; until now
    up to date:  current; modern
    see eye to eye with:  agree entirely with
    take something to heart:  be much affected by something
    made to measure:  exactly suitable; (of clothes) made for a certain person
    keep something to oneself:  not tell anyone
    to the point:  relevant


    under age:  below the age of being legally permitted to do something
    be under arrest:  be held prisoner and charged with wrongdoing
    under the auspices of:  with the patronage of; supported by
    under one's breath:  in a whisper
    under the circumstances:  because this is true
    under consideration:  being thought about
    under control:  able to be regulated or guided
    under cover of:  protected by; undetected because of
    under fire:  being shot at; being criticized
    under the impression that:  having the idea that
    be under the influence of:  be affected by
    be under oath:  have sworn to tell the truth
    under observation:  being watched carefully
    under restraint:  prevented from doing something


    have something up one's sleeve:  have a secret idea or plan in reserve


    with impunity:  without risk of injury or punishment
    with the naked eye:  without using a magnifying lens
    with no strings attached:  (of help given) with no conditions; to be used freely
    take with a pinch of salt:  not believe completely
    with regard to:  concerning; about
    with respect to:  concerning; about
    tarred with the same brush:  having the same faults
    with a vengeance:  very much; more than usual


    within limits:  to a certain extent; not too much
    within living memory:  within the memory of people now alive


    go without saying:  be obvious

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