I'm not a native-speaker; sometimes prepositions (or adverbs) are tricky for non-native speakers.

"Pass the book on to me when you've finished with it."

In this sentence, I don't know what does 'on' mean? I understand what 'on' means in these sentences:

There's a mark on your skirt.
Put your coat on.

But when we use 'pass something on to'... What nuance of meaning of the word 'on' is here?

Is it possible to omit 'on'?

"Pass the book to me when you've finished with it."

Would it still be the same meaning? Why does first sentence have 'on'? And could you tell me some example sentences with this meaning of 'on' in them?

2 Answers 2


There on would have the basic underlying meaning of onward or forward, as in "they marched on". The sense is the continuation of something.

I said shhhhh! but the toddler went on talking loudly in the library.

You've had an initial interview, and have done well, so we're sending you on to a second round of interviews.

In your book scenario, the process that is being continued is that when one person finishes reading the book, he passes it on to another person, who reads it (and that process may continue with a third person, and a fourth, etc). The book progresses from one reader to the next.


Sadly, prepositions really need to be learned by rote in many cases.

Here, 'pass on' is an idiomatic phrase. It has a few meanings:

About a person, it is a euphemism for death. It can also mean to communicate or tell someone something, like "Please pass on my message to Jane".

This is a third meaning of the phrase, and it means to give. It's used typically in the sense of passing ownership to a new person, especially for an object that will be handed down through a chain of owners. For example, a family might pass on a wedding ring through many generations.

The difference in your sentences:

Pass the book to me when you've finished with it.

This is simply a request for the other person to hand you the book. There's no implication that the other person is giving you ownership of the book.

Pass the book on to me when you've finished with it.

In this case, however, it's not just asking to look at the book, it's asking the person to give you the book.

  • "Pass on" as a euphemism for "die" is short for "pass on to another life". The euphemism assumes that the person who died will go to heaven, hell, or purgatory. In Christian theology, heaven, hell, and purgatory are environments in the "after-life".
    – Jasper
    Commented Mar 10, 2018 at 20:27

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