On or In? Which PREPOSITIONS for which TRANSPORT

Updated: Aug 17, 2019

Do we get IN a bus or ON a bus? What about boats? Are we ON them or IN them? So many questions, so many vehicles. It can be difficult to distinguish which preposition we’re supposed to use. Luckily, there’s a way that can help you easily use the right preposition for each transport.

It’s quite simple. All you need to ask yourself is one question:

“Can I stand up in this vehicle?”

Do you think he likes sitting?

The preposition we use in English can be related to whether or not we have the ability to remain standing while a vehicle is moving. We can definitely sit in almost all of the different vehicles but we can’t stay standing in some of them.

Let’s look at one of our earlier examples, the bus. Buses are big vehicles that have seats for us to sit on but also have space for people to stand. In contrast, we can’t stand in smaller vehicles, such as cars. So when we want to talk about entering these vehicles, we can use the following sentences:

I’m getting ON the bus.

Sarah is getting IN the car.

Everyone on!

Notice that for the bus we use the preposition on while with the car we use in. This can be applied to almost any other vehicle that we can enter. The following list shows which preposition we use with which vehicles.

on: bus, ship, boat, yacht, airplane, hot air balloon, zeppelin

in: car, truck, boat, ambulance, firetruck, helicopter, biplane

Wait a minute! Boat is both in and on? That depends. The word boat is a classifier which can mean small boats, such as dingies or rowboats, and can also mean bigger ones, such as sailing boats and speedboats. It just depends on how big the boat you’re talking about is. You can’t actually stand for very long on a rowboat because you will eventually fall, so you are in a rowboat.

Now, you might be wondering about two-wheeled vehicles like motorcycles and bicycles. The answer is actually simple: we only use on because we don’t enter these vehicles. We ride them. Riding is the kind activity where you are on the thing you’re riding so there can never be any confusion about which preposition to use. This can be used for horses, jet skis, and any other type of transport where we are not really inside.

To summarise, if the transport we are using:

can be ridden -> on

can be entered and allows us to stand -> on

can be entered and doesn’t allow us to stand -> in

There you have it! I hope this has been useful. If so, share this article with someone who wants to learn English, follow us on Instagram and leave us a comment about what you would like us to talk about in the next one.

See you in the next lesson!

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