FW: On/In

Subject: FW: On/In
From: "Barbara Yanez" <BarbaraYanez -at- cogentsystems -dot- com>
To: "TECHWR-L" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Fri, 13 Dec 2002 13:16:36 -0800

I used to have fun with the prepositions in/at/on when I taught ESL

You can only be in a car, but for train, boat, plane you can be either in or on.
You could be sitting on a car, but that would mean you were sitting on the hood or something. . Hmmm.
You can be in or on a truck, but when you are on, you are generally in the back part. If the back part is enclosed, you can be in.
But you can't be on if you are in the front part of the truck. Why is that?
You can be only be on a bicycle but not in.

You can only be on a stool, loveseat, sofa, couch, but you can be in or on a chair. Why is that?

"In" usually implies enclosure with respect to place. "At" usually implies "in the general area." BUT

You can be in or at the park, though generally there is no enclosure. Why is that?
You can be at the beach but not in, of course, as there is no enclosure.
You can be at or in the pool, but if you are in the pool you are in the pool itself; if you are at the pool you are in the general area OR you are actually in the pool itself.

ROADWAYS (this one is fun)

You can be on the road, or street, or in the road/ street, but generally if you are in the road, you are lying in the middle of the road.
But your car is generally on a road or street, not in it.
You *could* say "a man's body was lying in the middle of the highway" but generally you don't say a person was "in the highway."
You can be on a sidewalk but not in one; I suppose you *could* say "there was penny lying in the middle of the sidewalk." Hmmm.
And, a house is on a street but not in a street.

In, At, On:

In usually implies duration / a span of time; (in the morning, in the evening, in the summer); "At" usually implies a more precise moment (at 9:00, at dusk, at night etc.) BUT
"at Christmastime" doesn't fit.
"At night" could mean at nightfall but also could just mean a general span of time, when you are not being clear about when.
Also, "in" is used for months, but "on" for days, dates, and years. Hmmm.


Barbara Yanez
(who is feeling that it is Friday...)

From: eric -dot- dunn -at- ca -dot- transport -dot- bombardier -dot- co
linguistic reasons for this latest quirk of
the English language under scrutiny:

Perhaps due to what your parents were most likely to yell at you.

"GET ON THE BUS!" Children are most often followed onto transit vehicles.
"GET IN THE CAR!" A parent will invariably already be in the car waiting for the


Is there a connection between whether you can stand up and move around in the
vehicle? You get on/board vehicles that require you to walk an aisle to your
seat. You get in vehicles that generally have one door per seat or don't have
aisles or room to stand.

Now, onto parking on driveways and driving on parkways....

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