Heaven knows what had happened to her at her previous owner's.

Why should we use the preposition "to" not "on"? What are the differences between them?

  • 1
    Because that's the idiom; there's no Why about it. On would be used to identify a date or some kinds of place: What happened to her on Feb. 23, 1933, on the Orient Express. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 1:48
  • Why can it become an idiom? What did it originate from?
    – user48070
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 1:55
  • Well, the first time anyone wrote “to” down was around 875. It has expressed directionality since before then. When something happens to you, it undergoes figurative motion from distant time (and maybe some space) into your immediate circumstance; from impossibility to possibility. We would only say something happened on you if it began and ended on the surface of your skin. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 2:10
  • In the 14th century when the word happen first showed up, folks seem to have regarded the recipient of the action as an indirect object; so they tried out to and unto and for and the null-preposition, and then they voted on it for a couple or three centuries and settled on to. I daresay things work the same way in your language. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 2:11
  • Where can I find this kind of material?
    – user48070
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 2:16

1 Answer 1


Many, many verbs take certain prepositions and only those prepositions. You should just memorize the verb with the preposition, and not worry about why the preposition goes with the verb, because typically the reasoning is lost in an earlier version of the language.

You will make yourself crazy if you try to find a semantic reason that we "believe in" something instead of "believing on" or"about" it. Just treat "believe in" as an expression that you must memorize independent of "believe." Same with "happen to."

  • I mean different prepositions should have some certain usages. So I want to find out their certain usages.
    – user48070
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 8:47
  • @user48070 Prepositions have definite uses, but not certain in the sense of 'predictable'. What hunter says is exactly right. There are no shortcuts. Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 13:40

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