Regards, I would like to know about a particular usage of the preposition 'on'. The sentence

What a pity, his house was on fire.

means that the house was damaged by a fire.

But the preposition 'on' is used for time and place (surface). What explanation for this?

Now what about these two sentences :

  1. The paper will catch with fire.

  2. The paper will catch on fire.

Which is the correct sentence?

I would appreciate thorough and compact analysis. Thanks.

  • 1
    On is used for a lot more than just time or surfaces. You can be on duty or on the clock, or give a speech on a subject, you can be on time to an event, you can change your mind after reflecting on something.
    – stangdon
    Mar 24, 2017 at 16:44

1 Answer 1


The Cambridge Dictionary lists about 25 meanings of on. Check out the link if you want to see examples of each usage.

Which preposition should you use in this context? Well, I would go for none at all: catch fire is an idiomatic expression. This NGram shows that catch fire is considerably more common than catch on fire, and catch with fire gets no hits at all.

If you are concerned about the rationale for when to use on or not, you could have a look at some of the actual references that NGram found.

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