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Prepositions: 'off'/'of'/'from'/'about' in British English as Single Words or as a Part of Expressions

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Ann is a retired teacher of literacy and EFL (English as a foreign language) to multi-national and dyslexic students, having a DipSpLD.


Aaaaah! Frustration!

What can I say? I’m devoting a hub to these alone. I hear and see ‘off’, ‘of’ and ‘from’ misused so often that I’m itching to give vent to my frustration.

So Let's Go!

My main bug here is that you don’t say ‘off of’, nor do you say you had something ‘off’ someone, unless you were disrobing them or snatching from them. It seems these mistakes are being made more and more often than before.

Off and On

I got off the bus.

Would you say ‘I got on of the bus?’ No, you’d say ‘I got on’ or ‘I got onto...’. On/off, short and sweet.

He took the book off the shelf, or possibly (down) from the shelf.

I had a present from my sister. Not ‘off’ my sister. If you had it ‘off’ her then it implies snatching from her.

She took the bracelet off her arm; you put something on, you take something off. Again, it’s simple. Economy of words strikes again!

The light is off or the light is on.

He fell off the trapeze. He was trying to impress his girlfriend but instead made a great impression on the ground.

From and Off

A present from.......

A present from.......

She took off the bracelet.

She took off the bracelet.

Light Off

Light Off

Light On

Light On

The Queen of Hearts 'Off with his Head!' from Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'

The Queen of Hearts 'Off with his Head!' from Lewis Carroll's 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'

Off his Head

He was off his head on booze; using the expression ‘off his head’ meaning mad, crazy, violent.

This is not to be confused with the Queen of Hearts’ ‘Off with his head!’, nor with the expression ‘Be off with you!’ (go away).

He laughed his head off; an idiom meaning he laughed a lot, so much that his head could’ve fallen off.

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Expressions or idioms don’t necessarily fit grammatical rules. They are sometimes colloquial, accepted as they are, and therefore remain as originally introduced.

Some people use this as an excuse for bad grammar in general speech. ‘Oh, language evolves, it’s what everyone says now.’ That’s what an Asda representative said to me when I pointed out that the huge shop banners saying ‘Use less bags, help the environment’ were grammatically incorrect. In case you’re wondering, it’s fewer bags (you can count them - explained in another hub!). He seemed to think the average Joe couldn’t cope with correct speech - so patronising.

Off the Record

This oft-used expression means you don’t want it written down, you don’t want it repeated in public; you’re saying, ‘I’m going to speak my mind but I never said it.’ It’s what politicians say when they think the microphones are off. Gordon Brown got himself into terrible trouble when he made an ‘off the record’ remark about someone approaching him in the street with a question; he called her a ‘bigot’ and had to go to her house to apologise. She remained unimpressed, not surprisingly.

Made of paper, plastic, wood, glass.......

Made of paper, plastic, wood, glass.......

A picture of Birmingham in 1949

A picture of Birmingham in 1949


Of - such a tiny word but such a problem sometimes. It can denote possession.

‘It was the car of a Lord, left to rot in the garage because he had too much money to bother with it.’ It belonged to the Lord. We would be more likely to say ‘It was a Lord’s car’ but I’m making a point.

It can state the material something is made of (or made from) or an object’s state of being.

It’s made of wood. It was made out of, or from, a piece of driftwood.

She wore a dazzling ring of diamonds and sapphires.

It can also mean ‘representing’ or ‘showing’. It’s a picture of the Bull Ring in Birmingham in 1949.


The word can be (not always) an alternative to ‘of’ or it can denote where a person was born or where an object originates.

They came from the Midlands. They were of that region. You could tell by the distinctive accent (I’m trying to be diplomatic here - just kidding, great accent, though not a patch on Geordie).

The chair was of dubious origin. It came from an unknown source.

As I said, not always, so beware!

It’s also used when receiving something from someone or somewhere.

The present came from a mystery sender; it was wrapped in brown paper and a note which said ‘From an admirer’. The postmark denoted it came from Brighton.

As an extra, there’s another possible alternative to ‘of’. Read on!

What's this about?

Who is she?  What's the story about?

Who is she? What's the story about?


This word is often used when referring to stories or gossip concerning people.

The story was about a monster; I think his name was Blair or some such. It was a story of intrigue and deceit.

‘About’ is of course also used in expressions, such as ‘around and about’ denoting place.

It can imply something non-specific; ‘The table cost about ten thousand pounds; pure English Oak, dowel jointed and carved by a craftsman.’

Followed by ‘to’, it implies imminent action. ‘She was about to hit him across the face but thought better of it.’

Then you can use it to broach a conversation; ‘About that holiday - do you think we should go to Australia or take a B&B down the road?’

In Conclusion

Please think carefully when you use ‘off’ and ‘of’!

I’m off to write another literary masterpiece now. This might not be your cup of tea or you might nod off as you read but at least I’ll have tried to put you off making a comedy of errors.

Just for fun, you could try the exercise below. I dare you!

Which Word Should You Use?

Look at each Poll, choose the correct missing word or words in the correct order, from the options.

For the answers to the polls, see below - and don't cheat!

Answers to the Word Polls

* from

* of, of, from

* off, of, off

* either, but 'of' is better

© 2014 Ann Carr


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on October 30, 2014:

Anne Harrison: thank you for reading and for your comment; much appreciated.

Anne Harrison from Australia on October 30, 2014:

Little wonder English is meant to be the hardest language to learn! Whenever I'm in doubt, I go back to Tolkien, an excellent source for writers. Voted up, thank you

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 09, 2014:

DealForALiving: I'm glad you enjoyed reading this. Thanks for your visit and for your input.


Nick Deal from Earth on September 08, 2014:

This was a lot of fun to read! Thanks for writing this.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on September 08, 2014:

favored: Yes, I'm forever finding my own mistakes! Thanks for another visit!


Fay Favored from USA on September 08, 2014:

Seems there is always something that we have to go back and fix in sentence structure. Thanks for the review.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 08, 2014:

FlourishAnyway: You're right about the EFL learners. I've also taught dyslexics and taught them basic grammar such of this - they ended up knowing far more than many mainstream students I knew. There's a lot to be said for 'grammar lessons'! It seems to pass through the net these days, sadly.

Thanks for your insightful comment. Good to see you.


FlourishAnyway from USA on August 06, 2014:

I've noticed that those who study English as a second language often learn its rules better than native born speakers. Although I do not give off, of, from, or about much thought, I can definitely see how they can cause confusion. Your points about "off of the bus" are certainly well taken.

Dianna Mendez on August 05, 2014:

I loved the quiz and I'm happy to say I got 100 on each. Great learning adventure for me today. Thanks!

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Yes, it's all a matter of taste and, if I'm honest, probably depends on the day!

You're right that it should be 'us' (object of sentence, not subject!). Sorry, I can't resist it. My partner says, 'oh, there goes the teacher again'!

I appreciate you stopping by and thanks for the comment.


Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on August 02, 2014:

I agree with Frank., About sounds better to me. ( Only one i missed. ) This is a great way to get correct grammar across. I love to take quizzes. Thank you for teaching we who live in Hubville. ( or should i have said us? ) lol

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Thanks, Kevin. I try to be a little light-hearted as grammar can be so boring! Thank you so much for the kind votes too. Glad you liked it.


The Examiner-1 on August 02, 2014:

I liked that Ann and even though I read it seriously, it was somewhat funny. I voted up, shared it and pinned it.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Great to see you back too, Faith. They are tricky little words.

In the 'book of poems' example it has to be 'of' if you mean it's an anthology, a collection of poems. A 'book about poems' would be a book which talked about different poems or about poetry in general. Tricky indeed!

Looking forward to seeing some more hubs from you in the near future then! Your visit is much appreciated.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Thanks DDE. It's always the little words that catch us out! I appreciate your visit, as always. Ann

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on August 02, 2014:

Hi Ann you are so right even I make these mistakes. Another great hub from you. Informative and so interestingly thought of.

Faith Reaper from southern USA on August 02, 2014:

Haha ... I did not realize these little words were so much trouble for some. Great to see you publishing after a wonderful summer of enjoying time for yourself, I hope. I have been doing the same this summer and hope to publish soon.

I did take your quiz and scored 100%, but that last one almost tripped me up. I think here in America, we tend to say "about" too much. I can see how using "of" is much better than "about" as in ... "A book of poems" as opposed to "A book about poems", as in the first instance, we know the book contains poetry. In the second instance, it is a bit confusing as one may tend to think it is explaining poems that are contained in the book.

Welcome back.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

GustheRedneck: thanks for your comment though I'm not quite sure I fully understood it either! I guess some are less bothered than I am about the accuracy of grammar and I can understand that. I just have a thing about it and for anyone who wants to know I put if forth on paper.

Hope the snoring didn't wake you and I trust that you had a good night's sleep! Thank you for the visit and for leaving your hilarious comment. Much appreciated.


Gustave Kilthau from USA on August 02, 2014:

Howdy Ann (annart) -

To each his own, of course, from me about to drop off to sleep from dendritic overstretching from the pulling about of four weighty words of common overuse. Right off the top, my opinion is of scant consequence on the subject of words frequently misused by the hoi polloi, so, off I go to my bed from which snoring can be heard both on and off the premises.

Enjoy this comment of high praise. It is sincere although I may not fully understand it myself.

Gus :-)))

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Thank you, carrie Lee Night, for your visit and your comments. I'm glad it was useful and that you agree with my philosophy! I'm all for language evolving but I don't like lazy language!

Carrie Lee Night from Northeast United States on August 02, 2014:

Thank you for sharing :). Grammar can be a tricky subject, one that challenges me. I agree with you that just because our casual language has changed, does not mean we shouldn't try to use proper words. Voted useful.

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Hankscita, thanks for your comment and the smile. I hadn't heard that one. Maybe I'm a grammar nazi! I hope I'm more tolerant though.

Your visit is much appreciated.


Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 02, 2014:

Frank, thanks for the comment; glad you enjoyed this.

'Of' is more traditional which is what I prefer but 'about' is just as good. I guess it's a matter of preference and it might be the difference between British and US English. I've noticed that language changes are variable on each side of the pond. That's what makes the world go round!

You're a good writer so go with your flow, not mine!


Sandy from Florida on August 01, 2014:

Love this! And you know what they said to calm down the grammar nazi? "There, their, they're." :)

Frank Atanacio from Shelton on August 01, 2014:

Annart I enjoyed this hub as for the quiz the last one you say of is better but ive always used a story about... just sounds better what say you?

Ann Carr (author) from SW England on August 01, 2014:

I've noticed that error a few times on hubpages - usually the US hubbers I'm afraid! Smart girl indeed, your step-daughter. I like her already.

Glad I made you laugh. The answers are all in the text (and at the bottom!) so no excuse.

Oh and thanks for being first on the doorstep.

You and Bev have a great weekend too.


Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on August 01, 2014:

I was laughing too hard to take the quiz. Sorry, teach, but I'm secretly afraid I'll fail. :)

You are too funny, Ann. My step-daughter caught me in an error yesterday....I said I could care less about something that was in the news...she promptly pointed out that I couldn't care less. Smart little tart!

Have a wonderful weekend.


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