Common Idiom Mistakes: How Prepositions Can Make Or Break Your Idioms

over the moon

Idioms and phrases are quirky parts of the English language, but they can be a tricky concept for non-native speakers to master.

You might find yourself mixing up prepositions, which can entirely change the meaning of your idioms. In this article, get ready to explore some common idiom mistakes and learn how to avoid making them.

Let’s cover the basics: Idioms and prepositions

Even if you already understand the basics of idioms, it never hurts to double-check. So, let’s make sure we’re all singing from the same hymn sheet. (That’s an idiom, by the way!)

What is an idiom?

An idiom is an expression or phrase that has a different meaning from the individual words used.

For example, the idiom “I’m over the moon” means that you’re really happy, not that you’re literally positioned over the moon!

Here are some other common idiom examples you may have heard and an explanation of what they really mean:

  • Beat around the bush: To avoid talking about a specific topic directly or to delay getting to the point of an issue.
  • Bite the bullet: To do something that you’ve been putting off, typically something unpleasant or difficult.
  • Blessing in disguise: Something that seems like a bad thing at first but turns out to be a good thing.
  • Cut corners: To do something in the easiest way or to take a shortcut, often to save time and effort.
  • It’s not rocket science: Something that is very easy to learn or understand.
  • Under the weather: Feeling unwell or poorly.

What is a preposition?

A preposition is a word that tells you when or where something will happen in relation to something else.

For example, if someone asks where their cat is, you may reply “The cat is on the table”. In this scenario, on is the preposition that tells the person where their cat is.

How to avoid making preposition mistakes in idioms

When it comes to idioms, prepositions are parts of a sentence that can make or break the expression as a whole. A small mistake can change the whole meaning of an idiom and make it very confusing to understand.

Let’s take a look at some common preposition mistakes in idioms.

Mistake 1 – ‘count on’ and ‘count in’

To ‘count on’ somebody means you trust them to help or support you, while ‘count in’ is often used to include someone in a group or activity.

Correct: “I can count on you to help me finish this project on time”.

Incorrect: “I can count in you to help me finish this project on time”.

Mistake 2 – ‘run into’ and ‘run in to’

To ‘run into’ someone suggests that you didn’t expect to see them, while ‘run in to’ means that you enter a place quickly.

Correct: “I ran into my old friend at the store”.

Incorrect: “I ran in to my old friend at the store”.

Mistake 3 – ‘agree to’ and ‘agree on’

‘Agree on’ is a mutual understanding or agreement about something, while ‘agree to’ means consenting to something.

Correct: “The team agreed on a plan of action”.

Incorrect: “The team agreed to a plan of action”.

Mistake 4 – ‘at the end’ and ‘in the end’

The phrase ‘at the end’ refers to a specific time or place, whereas ‘in the end’ means the final outcome of a situation.

Correct: “In the end, we decided to go with the more affordable option”.

Incorrect: “At the end, we decided to go with the more affordable option”.

Mistake 5 – ‘shut off’, ‘shut in’ and ‘shut up’

‘Shut off’ means to switch off or stop something. ‘Shut in’ means to confine something to a specific area. ‘Shut up’ is an unfriendly way to say stop talking.

Correct: “We shut off the lights last night at bedtime.”

Correct: “The teacher kept the noisy students shut in the classroom during lunch.”

Correct: “She quickly shut up once she realised she was wrong.”

Ready to ditch these errors for good?

If you’re already chuckling at how you’ve misused these idioms before, imagine how satisfying it will be to get them right!

Our range of English courses can make preposition errors a thing of the past. So, don’t beat around the bush – take the next step in mastering English idioms with British Council English Online.

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