Are there any differences in the meaning of or when we use the idioms 'off and on' and 'from time to time'? The definitions in the Cambridge Dictionary are:

  • off and on: happening or existing only some of the time
  • from time to time: sometimes, but not regularly

1 Answer 1


The idiom "off-and-on" (or on-and-off) is adjectival, in the sense it may be used attributively or as a complement

Her on-and-off boyfriend...

Their relationship was off-and-on that year.

But "from time to time" is a prepositional phrase.

He plays tennis from time to time.

Because one is an adjective, and the other is a PP, one can't be substituted by the other.

The meaning is also different. If someone "plays football on-and-off" it means that there are periods when they don't play football at all, and other periods when they do

        on                  off                    on
.   .  .    .   . ..                       .. .      .   ..            

But if they play football from time to time, it means irregularly, and not often

time              time      time      time               time 
.                 .           .       .                  .

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