Idioms that Start with Prepositions  

Definition

Most idioms that start with prepositions are prepositional phrases and consist of a preposition followed by a noun or noun phrase. This type of prepositional idiom can be used adverbially or adjectivally and may come at the beginning, middle, or end of a sentence.

Examples of common prepositional idioms

Here are some of the most common prepositions found at the beginning of prepositional idioms:
  • in
  • on
  • out of
  • at
  • for
  • by
  • from
As there is no way to decipher a prepositional idiom’s meaning simply by looking at it, it is best to memorize as many combinations as possible. The following sections contain examples of some of the most common prepositional idioms that start with the above prepositions.
This is not an exhaustive list, however. There are other prepositions that can be used at the start of idioms, and many more combinations than the ones listed below. To learn more idioms, phrases, and phrasal verbs, check out The Free Dictionary’s Collection of Idioms and Phrases at idioms.thefreedictionary.com.

Idioms that start with in

The table below shows various examples of prepositional idioms that start with the preposition in:
Idiom
Meaning
Example Sentence
in advance
ahead of time; before
“Sue paid for her gift in advance.”
in brief
concisely; in a few words
“This textbook explains World War II in brief.”
in bulk
in large amounts
“We always buy toilet paper in bulk.”
in common
sharing a trait with someone or something else
“Dogs and wolves have several traits in common.”
in danger
prone to danger or threatened by a dangerous situation; about to be harmed
“Those little kids are in danger.”
in debt
owing money
“Many students are in debt due to the expense of higher education.”
in demand
desired; wanted; sought after (usually skills or products)
“Computer skills are really in demand these days.”
in depth
thoroughly; comprehensively
“Students must discuss their proposals in depth with their advisers.”
in detail
thoroughly; comprehensively
“Writers describe everything in detail.”
in the end
finally; at last
In the end, what matters most is honesty.”
in fact
really; actually
“The man who is dressed in a T-shirt and jeans is in fact the CEO.”
in general
usually; most of the time
In general, owners should feed their pets at least twice a day.”
in a minute
very soon
“Angela will arrive in a minute.”
in particular
especially
“I love history in general, but I would like to learn more about European history in particular.”
in reality
really; actually
“Oftentimes, the most talkative people are in reality quite shy.”

Idioms that start with on

The table below shows various examples of prepositional idioms that start with the preposition on:
Idiom
Meaning
Example Sentence
on average
usually; typically; normally
“Bruce works out on average four times a week.”
on board
located on a ship, train, or airplane
“The ship will depart once everyone is on board.”
on demand
immediately available when asked for or requested
“Most people prefer to watch movies on demand.”
on display
being shown, showcased, or exhibited
“A famous painting is now on display at the museum.”
on fire
in flames; burning
“A building was on fire yesterday.”
on hand
available, accessible
“Do you have a notepad on hand?”
on the other hand
in contrast (to a previously stated point of view)
“It’s fun to see movies, but on the other hand tickets can be quite expensive.”
on purpose
intentionally; deliberately
“Liz left without us on purpose.”
on sale
being sold, especially at a reduced price
“The hat you wanted is on sale at the mall.”
on schedule
functioning as planned or scheduled
“The buses seem to be on schedule today.”
on time
at the planned or expected time (e.g., of arrival)
“Alfred never arrives on time.”

Idioms that start with out of

The table below shows various examples of prepositional idioms that start with the preposition out of:
Idiom
Meaning
Example Sentence
out of the blue
without prior indication; unexpectedly
“He showed up at our house out of the blue.”
out of breath
tired; exhausted; panting
“She became out of breath after trudging up the stairs.”
out of character
contrary to one’s personality
“Teresa has been acting out of character lately.”
out of harm’s way
safe
“I’m just glad the baby is out of harm’s way.”
out of order
not functioning or working properly; temporarily broken or unusable (usually referring to machinery)
“This printer is out of order.”
out of the ordinary
unusual; not normal
“His methods are out of the ordinary.”
out of print
no longer published or printed (usually referring to books)
“Unfortunately, that book is out of print.”
out of the question
impossible or unlikely; unreasonable
“Your request is out of the question.”
out of season
not ripe or readily available (usually fruits or vegetables)
“Grapes are out of season this time of year.”
out of style
not fashionable or hip
“Perms have been out of style for decades.”
out of time
having no more (remaining) time
“We are almost out of time.”
out of town
temporarily away at a location in a different vicinity
“Brian will be out of town this weekend.”
out of work
unemployed
“Most of my friends are unfortunately out of work.”

Idioms that start with at

The table below shows various examples of prepositional idioms that start with the preposition at:
Idiom
Meaning
Example Sentence
at all times
always
“Wear your seatbelt at all times.”
at fault
responsible for something bad; culpable
“She is the only one at fault.”
at first
in the beginning; initially
At first, she attempted to speak to everyone individually.”
at hand
near in space or time
“Always keep your passwords close at hand.”
at last
finally
“He made it to the airport at last.”
at once
immediately
“Go to your room at once!”
at rest
motionless
“An object at rest stays at rest unless acted on by an outside force.”
at risk
prone to danger or threatened by a dangerous situation
“Families residing near the volcano are especially at risk.”

Idioms that start with for

The table below shows various examples of prepositional idioms that start with the preposition for:
Idiom
Meaning
Example Sentence
for certain
surely; definitely; positively
“Is Desmond coming to the party tomorrow for certain?”
for example
as an example; for instance
“English isn’t the only international language; for example, French is the national language of many different countries.”
for fun
as a hobby; for enjoyment
“What do you usually do for fun?”
for good
permanently or for an extended period of time
“I’ve decided to leave this city for good.”
for a living
as an occupation
“Herman cleans houses for a living.”
for now
temporarily; for the time being
“Please go to the waiting room for now.”
for sale
being sold; available to be purchased
“Is this diamond ring for sale?”

Idioms that start with by

The table below shows various examples of prepositional idioms that start with the preposition by:
Idiom
Meaning
Example Sentence
by accident
unintentionally; not deliberately
“The kids broke the vase by accident.”
by all means
definitely; certainly
“Prospective students are by all means encouraged to visit the campus.”
by hand
without the use of machinery
“He makes intricate sculptures by hand.”
by mistake
unintentionally; not deliberately; as a mistake
“I went to the wrong location by mistake.”
by the way
incidentally (used to introduce a different topic)
By the way, have you written your essay yet?”

Idioms that start with from

The table below shows various examples of prepositional idioms that start with the preposition from:
Idiom that Starts with From
Meaning
Example Sentence
from afar
from a distance; coming from far away
“I could hear music from afar.”
from head to toe
all over the body
“She was covered in mud from head to toe.”
from scratch
from the beginning and using only the basic elements or ingredients
“Bob made raspberry cupcakes from scratch.”
from time to time
occasionally; infrequently
“They return to their home country from time to time.”
Quiz

1. Which of the following prepositions is not commonly found at the beginning of prepositional idioms?





2. Which of the following sentences contains an idiom that starts with a preposition?





3. Which of the following sentences does not contain an idiom that starts with a preposition?





4. Which of the following sentences uses a prepositional idiom incorrectly?





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