Ask-A-Linguist Message Details
|Subject:||Prepositions preceding modes of transportation|
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''
This, however, pushes the question forward yet again -- why,
then, do we not ride ''in'' a plane or ''in'' a bus?
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
|Reply From:||Elizabeth J Pyatt click here to access email|