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Subject: Prepositions preceding modes of transportation
Question: I'm sure this is a useless question, but it has been bothering me since it occurred to me. Why is it we travel ''on'' a bus, ''on'' a train, ''on'' a boat, ''on'' a plane, but ''in'' a car? As we also travel ''in'' cabs and police cruisers, it begs to reason that it has less to do with ownership of the vehicle and more to do with the size of the vehicle. Nevertheless, the original models for automobiles weren't enclosed, to it seems likely that the usage would have favored ''on,'' since the riders were not ''in'' anything. The best reason I can think of is that the usage transferred from the horse-drawn carriage, which some of us still ride ''in'' today, but that only cycles the question further back. Bearing in mind that the modes of transportation at that point would have been the boat, the carriage, forms of animal (primarily horse), and later on the train, it makes sense to be ''on'' a boat and ''on'' a horse, but ''in'' a carriage. But why ''on'' a train? This, however, pushes the question forward yet again -- why, then, do we not ride ''in'' a plane or ''in'' a bus?
Reply: This isn't an official answer, but I note that "in" modes (cars/carriages) are inside small compartments with doors. Specifically inside a relatively small compartment in which you open a door and sit down (or crawl over a seat and sit). In comparison, a boat has a deck that you stand on and often a boarding ramp. Metaphorically, you are riding on a platform, even if the platform is inside a large ship. So... even though planes, buses and trains have doors, the boarding process also involves a ramp and floors you can stand on. BTW - A small ship doesn't have the same kind of ramp, but it also doesn't usually have a roof either, so "on" still applies. Same thing with open carts ("on a cart") And as you know, there is no way to ride inside a horse, unless it's the Trojan horse. There could be a counterexample to this pattern, but that's because prepositions aren't 100% consistent.
Reply From: Elizabeth J Pyatt      click here to access email
Date: 18-Feb-2013
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Prepositions preceding modes of transportation    Anthea Fraser Gupta     (20-Feb-2013)
  2. Re: Prepositions preceding modes of transportation    Norvin Richards     (19-Feb-2013)
  3. Re: Prepositions preceding modes of transportation    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (18-Feb-2013)
  4. Re: Prepositions preceding modes of transportation    John M. Lawler     (18-Feb-2013)

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