Blog Grammar Rules In vs On: What’s the Difference?

In vs On: What’s the Difference?

Millie Dinsdale

Millie Dinsdale

Content Manager at ProWritingAid

Published Dec 09, 2022

in vs on

In and on are both prepositions of time and place, but they have slightly different definitions.

The word in is used to refer to something that is located inside of a specific space. The word on is used to refer to something that is touching the surface of something else.

This article will cover the differences between in and on and provide examples of how to use each word in a sentence.

Contents:
  1. When to Use In vs On
  2. In vs On Examples in Sentences
  3. In vs On Exceptions to the Rule
  4. In vs On Conclusion

When to Use In vs On

In order to understand when to use the words in and on, we must first look at their definitions and which parts of speech they function as.

In Definition and Meaning

In can be a preposition, noun, adjective, or adverb.

The most common usage of in is as a preposition. When used as a preposition, it means “contained by” or “surrounded by.”

  • They played in the box.

When used as a noun, in refers to a position of power.

  • I’ve got an in with the restaurant because the owner is my cousin.

When used as an adjective, in refers to something that is in fashion.

  • Skinny jeans are out this year, but flares are totally in.

When used as an adverb, it references something that is located indoors or is moving into a defined space.

  • My neighbors aren’t in this weekend, so we are looking after their cat, Gracie.

in vs on definitions

On Definition and Meaning

On can be a preposition, adjective, or adverb.

As with in, the most common usage of on is as a preposition. It is used to refer to something that is touching something else, either physically or metaphorically.

  • The students didn’t notice that the correct answer was already on the board.
  • My teacher gave me a book on the history of English speakers and English grammar.

As an adjective, on means that something is active or operating.

  • The dishwasher, washing machine, and tumble dryer are all on.

As an adverb, on refers to a continuing action.

  • Drive on down the road, turn left, and the party store will be on your right.

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In vs On Examples in Sentences

The best way to learn the definition of a word is to see it used in context. Here are some more examples of the word in used in sentences.

  • Mary was in the store when she realized she had left her money at home.
  • If you go in the basement, you will find the kid’s paddling pool in a green box on the second shelf.
  • I’ve got a major disadvantage for this interview. Neil has an in already—the manager is his sister!
  • My daughter told me that scrunchies are in this year, so I bought her some for Christmas.

Now, let’s look at how we can use the word on in sentences.

  • Their relationship is on the brink of collapse.
  • The twins’ birthday presents are all on the table, ready for Monday morning.
  • My computer wouldn’t turn on, so I had to take it back to the shop.

In vs On Exceptions to the Rule

The English language is full of exceptions to the rule, and in and on are no different. Even native speakers struggle with some of the following rules, so don’t worry if you don’t get it right the first time!

In vs On with Transportation

The prepositions in and on are both used in relation to transportation, but they are not synonymous.

You should use the preposition in when referring to personal transport like a car. For example:

  • It takes 10 minutes every morning to get my kids in the car.
  • We aren’t all going to fit in this taxi because it only has 4 spare seats.

But you should use the preposition on when referring to public transport. For example:

  • Every time I get on a bus, I always go straight to the back seat.
  • We waited on the plane for 2 hours before it finally took off.

In vs On with Dates

In can reference a month, year, or unspecified date, while on should only refer to a specific date or day. Let’s look at the difference between these two prepositions using some examples.

  • The local bakery launched their new website on November 14.
  • I only allow my kids to drink fizzy drinks on special occasions.
  • On Tuesday, we are going to a conference for experienced writers.
  • Holly started learning how to speak French in 2004.
  • The local soccer team won their first game in March, and now they’re playing the championship match.

In vs On Conclusion

If you’re still worried about mixing up the words in and on, then why not let a grammar checker do the hard work for you?

ProWritingAid will detect when you use the wrong word and provide the correct suggestion right on your screen. In one click, you can correct your writing.

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Millie Dinsdale

Millie Dinsdale

Content Manager at ProWritingAid

Millie is ProWritingAid's Content Manager. A recent English Literature graduate, she loves all things books and writing. When she isn't working, Millie enjoys gardening, re-reading books by Agatha Christie, and running.

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