The Meaning and Use of the Preposition ‘From’

As a continuation of the series on frequently-confused English prepositions, this post focuses on the word ‘from’, which is primarily used to indicate a specific period or time within which an action or event takes place. For more information on prepositions in general, please see the relevant post. Prepositions are words that help establish relationships between different elements in a sentence, such as nouns, pronouns and phrases, by indicating location, time, direction, possession and more.

The word ‘from’

The word ‘from’, which can be straightforwardly translated according to its dictionary definition into most languages, can also frequently be confused with the preposition ‘of’ because in many languages there is only one word for these two words although, as you will see, ‘from’ has its own rather specific use:

If I took a photograph from Sarah, I am saying that I removed an existing picture from Sarah; perhaps she was holding it in her hand.

If I say I took a photograph of Sarah, I am saying that I captured her image on camera. I created an image that was not yet in existence.

A young woman gazing into the distance

Let’s examine how ‘from’ is used correctly in English:


As also explained in the general post on prepositions, some prepositions are ‘temporal’; they tell us the relative position of something in time. ‘From’ is used to indicate the starting point of a period or duration  of time:

  • The shop is open from 9am to 5pm.
  • He worked from January to March.
  • From the start of the second half of the concert, I began to feel unwell.


‘From’ is also used to indicate the distance between two points or locations:

  • The school is just five minutes’ walk from my house.
  • Do you live far from here?
  • I walked all the way from Cornwall to Lancashire.

Origin or source

But, ‘from’ can often be used to indicate the starting point of movement or the source of something:

  • She comes from Italy.
  • The letter is from your friend.
  • Aliens are from outer space.

Cause or reason

‘From’ is often used to indicate the reason or cause behind an action or feeling:

  • The guests were suffering from food poisoning.
  • She cried from joy.
  • He worked long hours from sheer need.

Some of these uses can also be replaced with other prepositions with no change to their meaning, and these are equally correct:

  • She cried with joy.
  • He worked long hours out of sheer need.


‘From’ is used to indicate a point of comparison or contrast between two things or ideas:

  • This book is different from the previous one.
  • I feel different from everyone else here.

One might also use the preposition ‘to’ in these examples without any change to the meaning:

  • This book is different to the previous one.
  • I feel different to everyone else here.

Exclusion or exception

‘From’ can denote exclusion or exception from a group or category:

  • All the students except one were absent from class.
  • The programme is suitable for children from ages 5 to 10 years.

Departure or separation

‘From’ is used to indicate separation or departure from a place:

  • The train departs from platform 3.
  • The butterfly emerged from its cocoon.

Phrasal verbs and common collocations

Phrasal verbs consist of a verb and one or more particles (prepositions or adverbs) that together create a unique meaning and function as a phrasal verb – a verb phrase. Phrasal verbs in English often involve common particles such as ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘on’, ‘off’, ‘out’ and many others. There are not many common phrasal verbs that include the word ‘from’, but listed below are some common collocations of verbs with that preposition.

  • Benefit from
  • Recover from
  • Learn from
  • Hide from
  • Suffer from
  • Keep from
  • Come from
  • Take away from
  • Turn away from
  • Move away from
  • Get away from
  • Break away from

The above phrases can all be literally understood, which is why they are not strictly classed as phrasal verbs. A great many English phrasal verbs, such as ‘to come up with’ or ‘to get along with’, can seem somewhat nonsensical, like random words thrown together to mean something entirely different in unison than their literal, independent meanings. However, most phrasal verbs containing the word ‘from’ are pleasantly logical and easy to understand. Nevertheless, phrasal verbs are collocations and it is important to understand that other words and prepositions can also collocate with the above phrases in place of ‘from’, which could change the meaning of those phrases.


The word ‘from’ has its origins in Old English, which was spoken in parts of what is now modern-day England and southern Scotland from around the mid-5th century to the mid-12th century. In Old English, the word ‘from’ was spelled as ‘fram’ and had similar meanings to today’s use.

The Old English ‘fram’ came from the Germanic language family, specifically from the West Germanic branch, which also included Old High German and Old Frisian. ‘Fram’ was used as a preposition, just like its modern counterpart, indicating the point of origin, source or starting point of a movement.

Over time, ‘fram’ evolved into the Middle English ‘from’ with similar meanings and usage. Middle English was spoken from around 1100 to 1500 AD, and during this period, the language underwent significant changes and simplifications. The Great Vowel Shift, theoretically caused by the migration of people around the country and the mingling of multiple dialects, which took place between around 1400 and 1700 AD and changed the sound of the English language, will also have influenced the change in pronunciation of ‘fram’.

In 1476, William Caxton brought the technology of the printing press to Britain, and the subsequent standardisation of the spelling of the English language, culminating in various dictionaries in the 1800s ensured that ‘from’ has retained its state from then to the present day.

Exercises to practise

Have a go at the following exercises to see whether ‘from’ is the correct preposition in the given contexts.

Created on By Michelle

The Preposition 'From'

Practise using the preposition 'from'

1 / 15

This jam came out ------- my grandmother's homemade stock

2 / 15

The company stands to gain ------ the new tax regulations

3 / 15

It took her a few weeks to recover ----- the flu

4 / 15

Would you take a picture ------ us standing in front of the Leaning Tower?

5 / 15

He took the picture ------ her and tore it to pieces

6 / 15

We can learn valuable lessons ------- our mistakes

7 / 15

The children were playing and trying to hide ----- each other

8 / 15

He has been suffering ------ years with this condition

9 / 15

I had to keep myself ------ laughing during the serious presentation

10 / 15

This delicious cheese comes ------ France

11 / 15

The loud noise  -------- the fireworks startled the animals

12 / 15

He turned away ----- the disturbing image on the TV screen

13 / 15

The children were advised to move ------ the edge of the road

14 / 15

She needed a holiday to get away ----- the stress of work

15 / 15

The rebel forces managed to break away -------- the main army

Your score is

The average score is 93%


If you have any questions, suggestions or comments, please do add them below.


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