Phrase of the day: on the way

I went to visit my parents yesterday and on the way there, I was thinking about the number of times I’ve done that journey up and down the motorway and imagined all the little ant trails that I have left – my journeys from home to school, from home to work, from home to where I play football, from home to the airport and from there to Valencia, etc.

Most of these journeys almost pass without thought. They’re just routines, but then things happen and they become stories we tell – or at least part of your memories. For instance, I’ve broken down twice on the way to or from Birmingham – weirdly, at almost exactly the same place each time, but on opposite sides of the motorway. I got stuck in a traffic jam  on the way back recently, which meant it took five hours rather than the usual two. I’ve missed several planes both on the way to and from Valencia. I fell off my bike on the way to work one day, which meant I arrived in class (late) with blood caked on my face – much to the shock of my students! I have (usually with Hugh) stopped off at the pub on many occasions on the way back from work (let it be noted that it was never on the way to work!).

So I think you can see where we’re going with this. On the way is very frequent. It has 25 examples per million words on the BNC (almost three times the number for banana, for example) and if we include examples that use my, your etc., instead of just the, then we get double that number. It’s productive in terms of the stories that it could generate.


We might ask students to give examples of things that have happened to them on their way to

As a low-level chunk, it avoids the need to use a past continuous, if that’s something you feel is helpful.

You can also perhaps give frames:

Can you get some milk on the way home? (replace with other things to do / buy)

Sorry I’m late. The traffic was terrible on the way here. (replace with other problems).

I went to Birmingham yesterday and on the way there we stopped for lunch in this lovely place (replace with other places / times / things that happened).

and you might draw attention to the words that often collocate with on the way: on the way here; on the way back; on the way home; the flight on the way there.

Exploring the language that goes with these stories can obviously make the chunk an appropriate string point for a higher level.

And finally, you might look at uses as part of life is a journey metaphors: e.g. on his way to becoming president

Photo attribution: “Ant trail”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

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