I mentioned apartment issues earlier and there were many. Things were either not functional when we got the keys or would easily break on us

I'm assuming things would malfunction when they're trying to use it. For example, a stuck door falls on you when you pull on it hard or the oven starts making weird sounds when you switch it on for the first time.

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    It broke on me = It broke when I was using it (it "failed / let me down"). Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


If a person or thing does something on someone that usually means that the first person or thing has failed to do something, or has disappointed the second person in an annoying way:

I couldn't get to work on time because my car broke down on me.

Joe tried to call me, he said, but his phone's battery died on him.

I had a date with Mary, but she cancelled on me.

Cambridge Dictionary gives the 'faulty thing, machine or gadget' meaning, but, at least in the UK, a person can be talked about in this way if they unexpectedly fail to do something expected or promised:

on preposition (FAULTY)

used to show who suffers when something does not operate as it should:

The phone suddenly went dead on me.
Their car broke down on them on the way home.

On (Cambridge Dictionary)

  • I wouldn't categorize the car breaking down like the rest of the examples. That reads to me as "[while] on the way home", describing when/where the car broke down, rather than describing who was affected by the car breaking down, which would be "broke down on me". Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 18:31
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    @Feathercrown that's exactly what's written, though. "because my car broke down on me," "Their care broke down on them on the way home." The people who were in the car are the ones affected, and are the objects of "on" here.
    – Esther
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 18:40
  • @Esther I totally missed the "on them" in that sentence-- whoops Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 18:42
  • I can't think of an example where "on" is correct, but does not indicate that something is in ongoing use.
    – fectin
    Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 17:12
  • @fectin - I am not sure what you mean. 'Ongoing use' means 'not interrupted use'. If my car breaks down on me, or my horse goes lame on me, they will definitely not be in 'ongoing use', and will not be in use at all until they are fixed. If my phone's battery dies on me, the phone will not be in use again until I charge it. If a cheap cell phone dies on me, I will most likely put in in the trash, and it will never be in use again. Commented Nov 22, 2022 at 18:30

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