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Preposition Collocations 1

Perfect English Grammar

Download this explanation in PDF here.
Try an exercise about these phrasal verbs here.

Prepositions can be tricky. One problem is that there is often no logic at all! We use them in many phrases and expressions and unfortunately, we just need to learn these by heart. There aren't really any rules.

(I've called these 'preposition collocations' but sometimes people call them 'prepositional phrases' or 'preposition expressions'.)

1: At last = finally

  • After a long journey, at last we arrived at our hotel.
  • At last! I thought you'd never get here!
2: On foot = walking (NOT by foot)
  • I usually go to work on foot.
  • Did you come by car or on foot?
3: By mistake = not meaning to
  • I dropped the glass by mistake. I'm really sorry.
  • She gave him the wrong book by mistake.
4: In advance = beforehand
  • We need to book the tickets for the cinema in advance, or we won't get a good seat.
  • She always buys her food for Christmas well in advance.
5: Out of reach = too high to touch (literally or metaphorically)
  • She tried to grab the kite as it flew away but it was already out of reach.
  • That job is out of reach. I don't have the right qualifications for it.
6: For instance = here is an example
  • John reads a lot. For instance, yesterday he read two books.
  • You should eat more vegetables. Why don't you have a salad at lunchtime, for instance?
7: In danger = in a dangerous situation
  • When the car started rolling we realised that we were in danger. Luckily we managed to stop.
  • The dog fell into the river and was in danger for several minutes.
8: Without fail = always / definitely
  • She visits her mother every week without fail.
  • I study for twenty minutes a day without fail.
9: By chance = without planning
  • I saw Julie at the station by chance.
  • She found the perfect book by chance in a second hand bookshop.
10: On purpose = intending to do something
  • She left without paying on purpose! It wasn't a mistake.
  • Did you take my bag on purpose? Why would you do that?
11: For a change = to do something different
  • Let's have Italian food for a change. We always eat British food.
  • I don't want to go to the cinema again. I want to go to the park for a change.
12: On time (for) = at the time that was arranged
  • She was on time for the meeting. It started at nine and she arrived at nine.
  • Why are you never on time? I'm so fed up with waiting for you.
13: To my surprise = I was surprised
  • I opened the door, and to my surprise, it was Lucy! I'd thought she was in Paris.
  • To his surprise, the baby stopped crying and smiled at him.
14: At once = immediately
  • You must do it at once! Don't wait even one minute.
  • She cleaned up at once when she realised that her mother was coming to visit.
15: In common (with) = something that's shared or the same
  • People from different countries have a lot in common. We all want to have good lives.
  • What does a cat have in common with a mouse? Well, they are both mammals.
Try an exercise about these preposition collocations here.
See all the pages about prepositions here.