Use of 'off'/'of'/'from'/'about' in British English as Single Words or as a Part of Expressions
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 & 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 & Off
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.
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 ‘biggot’ and had to go to her house to apologise. She remained unimpressed, not surprisingly.
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?
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?’
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!
The present was ........ her father.
It's a picture ....... a dog eating a piece ...... meat ........ the butcher.
He got ....... the train, studied his piece ........ paper and fell ........ the platform.
It was a story ........ love and deception.
Answers to the Word Polls
* of, of, from
* off, of, off
* either, but 'of' is better
© 2014 Ann Carr