Prepositional idioms are phrases where the meaning is determined by the choice of preposition. As with the idiomatic expressions we have looked at in the past, there is no “rule” for which prepositional idiom is correct in a given situation. This is because prepositional idioms have evolved through custom and usage as the English language itself has grown and changed.
Because they don’t follow grammar rules, prepositional idioms can be a difficult concept for non-native speakers to master. Native English speakers frequently rely on what “sounds” right when choosing among prepositional idioms, an advantage that non-native speakers lack. In this lesson, we’re going to examine a few commonly-confused prepositional idioms.
Agree to/agree on/agree with
“Agree to” means that you give permission for or consent to something:
Ellen and Marie agreed to see the movie on Saturday.
To “agree on” something means to share an opinion with others on a topic, issue or course of action:
However, they couldn’t agree on a show time.
To “agree with” someone means to have the same idea has him or her:
I agree with Marie. That movie is boring.
Arrive at/arrive in
Use “arrive at” for a specific location:
June’s flight will arrive at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport at 9:30.
Use “arrive in” for more general locations, including countries, states/provinces, and cities:
I arrived in Atlanta yesterday.
At the end/in the end
“At the end” indicates the conclusion of something. It can be used either literally or figuratively:
Rob’s house is at the end of the street.
I’m at the end of my rope.
(“At the end of my rope” is itself an idiomatic expression. It means that someone has been pushed to his or her absolute limit.)
“In the end” means at the conclusion of:
In the end, Carter decided to attend Georgia Tech.
Report for/report on/report to
You “report for” an obligation or responsibility:
After she failed to report for work for the third time in a month, Sarah was given a written warning.
“Report on” means to provide information:
In preparation for the conference, the teacher submitted a report on each student’s progress.
“Report to” means to go to a specific person or place:
Paul’s manager ordered him to report to the conference room at 8 o’clock