“Occupy one’s mind” vs “Preoccupy someone” vs “Prey on one’s mind”

Imagine something gets so important to you that takes up your mind and occupies your thoughts in the manner that you constantly think about it.

A) Ana, what James told me at the party last night has ………………
B) What did he tell you Sam?
A) Perhaps he’s had a fertility test recently which shows he’s unable to have kids.
B) How come?
A) Yea, he’s unfortunately infertile!
B) Oh, sad…

1. preoccupied me
[To be the main thought in someone’s mind, causing other things to be forgotten]
2. occupied my mind
[If something occupies your mind, thoughts, or attention, or if it occupies you, you think about it a lot]
3. preyed on my mind
[If a problem preys on your mind, you cannot stop thinking about it]

As you can see through the provided links above, all three provided options are so close in meaning that it is somehow unlikely for a nonnative one to be able to distinguish between them.

Therefore, I was wondering if you could give me a hand and let me know if there is any significant nuance between these choices regarding my needed message.

To me they all mean the same thing, but that’s what I need you to confirm.


To me the verb preoccupy is not very natural – I would be much more likely to use the adjectival phrase preoccupied with (also without a qualifier He was preoccupied.)

Occupied my mind, while it makes sense, is likewise not a very natural phrase to me.

Prey on is different, because it implies that it is worrying the person – occupy and preoccupy do not have that implication (though of course they do not exclude it). I can be preoccupied with something I am looking forward to, and I would not say that was “preying on” my mind.

Source : Link , Question Author : A-friend , Answer Author : Colin Fine

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