As far as I'm concerned, one can use both of the prepositions "of" and "on" when it comes to time, money, breath, gas, etc. and the only difference between these two is that using the preposition "on" along with all my above-mentioned words sounds more common in AE and also informal BE. So in AE dialect, "on" is used more frequently, while Britons tend to use "of" most of the times. However, recently, I have found out that there are some other slight nuances here! For instance, imagine you and a friend go to buy a pair of sneakers! When you get to the store, you find some sneakers more attractive than the rest, but you immediately notice that you did not bring enough money to buy them! Your friend asks you, why don't you buy them? You would probably say:

  • I'm short "on" cash / money.

While when you say:

  • I'm short "of" cash. [It would imply that I can barely afford myself these days and almost, do not have any money.]

I.e. "of" has an implication of "lack", while "on," implies "not enough of something".

This is why when you are writing about yourself you can only say:

  • I'm short of the items below.

For the same reason, we can only say:

  • I'm short of breath. [Using "on" is incorrect here.]

The same goes with gas, time, breath" to me or some other collocations like:

  • We are short of / on good players in our team.

  • The hospital is short of / on nurses.

Please kindly make me aware of these nuances.

P.S. I have already read all the threads under the same topic in the forum, but they did not give me sufficient information in this regard.

  • 3
    AE speaker here. I'm not sure I could generalize that AE uses "on" more whereas BE prefers "of". I see "on" used with things you count or measure, like "short on time/money/supplies", and "of" otherwise as in "short of breath". That's not a hard and fast rule, though, and in fact I'd recommend that you just learn how the speakers of your chosen English dialect use "short of" vs "short on", rather than try to come up with a rule.
    – RuslanD
    Commented Apr 27, 2020 at 2:33
  • Good job @RuslanD. Just can you come up with any exception where your suggested semi-rule does not apply? Also, please have a look on Google Ngram replies which proves all your suggested answers is the other way around in AE: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 6:35
  • books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 6:35
  • books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – A-friend
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 6:37
  • 2
    An n-gram corpus depends on the selection of documents that go into the corpus, and isn't meant to "prove" or "disprove" a statement about the language quite in the way in which you've chosen to interpret it. Here's a recent article about COVID-19 where an emergency room worker is talking about how some hospital floors are "short on nurses": buzzfeednews.com/article/emmaloop/…. Does this "prove" anything? No, it doesn't - that's why I was careful not to make it sound like I was expressing a rule.
    – RuslanD
    Commented Apr 29, 2020 at 6:44

1 Answer 1


"Short of" generally conveys the idea of lacking or not having enough of something, while "short on" often implies a temporary shortage or insufficiency. These distinctions can be subtle, and in many cases, both prepositions can be used interchangeably without causing confusion or a significant change in meaning.

For example;

I'm short of cash/money.

I'm short on cash/money.

Both sentences convey the idea that you do not have enough money at the moment. While the first sentence with "of" might imply a more severe or lasting lack of money, the difference is subtle, and both expressions are commonly used.

Regarding your examples;

I'm short of breath

Here, using "of" is correct. Using "on" would indeed be incorrect in this context, because it doesn't make sense to be temporarily out of breath.

We are short of/on good players in our team

Both "of" and "on" can be used here, with "of" possibly implying a more persistent lack of good players, while "on" could suggest a more temporary shortage.

The hospital is short of/on nurses

Again, both prepositions are acceptable, with "of" potentially conveying a more lasting or systemic issue, and "on" suggesting a more temporary or circumstantial shortage.

In conclusion, there are indeed some nuances when using "of" and "on" in these contexts. While they can often be used interchangeably, the preposition "of" might suggest a more persistent or severe lack of something, while "on" could imply a temporary or circumstantial insufficiency. It is important to note that these differences are subtle, and in many cases, using one preposition over the other will not significantly change the meaning of the sentence.

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    Nice answer to a difficult question! One case where only the word "of" would be correct is when the object of the preposition is a number - like, "the ball landed just short of 50 yards" (never "on 50 yards"). Commented Aug 9, 2023 at 5:34

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