One of the most frequent types of mistakes that students of foreign languages make has to do with preposition use. Though prepositions can often be translated from one language to another, it’s usually hard to predict which one is used in what situation when learning a foreign language. It doesn’t help that prepositions can sometimes completely change the meaning of what you’re trying to say, especially in certain set expressions. Here are some pairs of phrases that seem pretty similar, but actually mean very different things.
If you can think of more pairs like this, please post them in comments. Also, feel free to add new sentences that use these phrases in different ways!
1. Hang up / hang out
To “hang up” means to end a phone call; to “hang out” means to spend time relaxing, usually with a friend.
If he hangs up before I’m done talking, I will be too mad to hang out with him this weekend.
2. Look up / look forward
To “look up” means to search and find information about something, usually in a dictionary or some sort of database. To “look forward” to something means to be excited about an event that will happen in the future.
After looking up the plot of Woody Allen’s latest movie, I’m really looking forward to seeing it!
3. Get into / get over
To “get into” means to become involved or interested in something. To “get over” can either mean the opposite of this — to lose interest in something — or it can also mean to recover from something, particularly an illness.
After I get over this flu, which is making me so weak, I’m going to get into biking again.
4. Throw out / throw up
To “throw up” means to vomit, whereas to “throw out” means to dispose of something that is no longer being used. Hint: In this case, “out” and “away” can be used to express the same meaning, so to “throw something out” and to “throw something away” both mean to put it in the garbage.
If my cat throws up on the floor in my living room, I’ll have to throw away the rug that’s in there.
5. Run into / run over
To “run into” someone can have the literal meaning of colliding with their body, but the phrase often means to meet or see someone unexpectedly. To “run over” something means to drive a vehicle over that person or thing.
I was so excited when I ran into my friend that I forgot to look both ways when crossing the street and a car almost ran me over!
6. Put down / put off
To “put down” another person means to insult them or make them feel useless or stupid. To “put off” something, usually some sort of event, means to postpone it.
I put off going out to lunch with my friend because the last time I spoke with her, she kept putting me down.
7. Hand in / hand out
To “hand in” an assignment means to submit it; to “hand out” means to distribute to a group of people. Here, because “in” and “out” are opposites, the two phrases have somewhat opposite meanings. However, be careful, as this is not necessarily always the case.
The teacher handed out the test to all of his students and told them to hand in the answers before the day was over.
8. Break into / break up
To “break into” a place means to forcibly enter it, and is usually used with a place that you should not enter or to which access is usually restricted. To “break up” with someone means to end a relationship.
If your girlfriend breaks into your house in the middle of the night uninvited, that’s probably a pretty good reason to break up with her!
Maya is a Pedagogy and Research summer associate at Voxy. She recently graduated from Middlebury College with a degree in Linguistics and Arabic. She loves not only learning foreign languages, but also learning all about the different languages of the world and what they have in common. Maya is passionate about sharing her love for languages with others and watching as more and more people become empowered by the knowledge of another language.