Knowing what preposition to use at any given moment can be confusing. Some people will say “In the car”, and some will say “On the car”. But which is correct? The following article will explain what the difference between both prepositions is, and which one should be used.
Both “In the car” and “On the car” are grammatically correct, but mean different things. “In the car” should be used when talking about something within a car, such as a passenger. “On the car” refers to something that is on top of the car, such as luggage.
The preposition “In” is used to refer to being on the inside of something. Therefore, “In” is the correct preposition to use when you’re talking about traveling “In the car”.
“On”, on the other hand, should be used for things that are above the roof of the car.
“In the car” is an expression used to refer to something that is on the inside of the car. Anything that is contained within the confines of the vehicle would be described as “In the car”.
This means that “In the car” is the correct expression to use when referring to a passenger, as in most situations if someone is traveling via car, they will be within the car.
Here’s a few example sentences so you can get a full picture of how to use “In the car”:
- I was traveling in the car when I heard about the explosion.
- Our group will be in the car while the other group is taking their luggage out.
- She’s going to sit in the car while I take care of our busted tire.
- He’s still in the car, but I can send someone to go fetch him.
- I’m going to be in the car while that happens, so don’t text or call me until I arrive.
- Considering the fact that she was in the car, she has a very good alibi.
- He’s in the car at the moment, do you want me to relay a message?
The expression “On the car” is used to refer to something that is on top of a given car, and not contained inside of it.
“On the car” would not be used to refer to a person who is driving a car, because this person would be inside the car, and not on it.
However, “On the car” would be used to refer to luggage that has been strapped to the roof of the vehicle, for example.
A person should then only be described as being “On the car” if they are physically above the roof of the vehicle in question.
Here’s some example sentences so you can really memorize the meaning of “On the car”:
- I’ve left your hat on the car by accident, but I will go get it.
- My surfboard is on the car, tied down with some leather straps.
- I think we are going to have to put the boat on the car itself, and go from there.
- She’s on the car, but she should get down from there, because it’s dangerous.
- Most of your bags did not fit in the trunk so they’re on the car.
- It was nighttime, and we were laying down on the car, looking at the stars.
- Your towel is on the car, we won’t need to use it for now.
In contexts in which a person is driving or is a passenger in a car, the correct phrase to use is “I am in a car”. “I am on a car” is correct if the person is standing or sitting on the roof of the vehicle itself.
Here’s a couple of examples with the proper use for each expression:
- I am in a car that’s headed to the airport, and it’s very early in the morning.
- I am on a car trying to get my luggage down from the roof of the car.
“In the van” should be used when talking about an object or person that is inside of the van itself, contained within its space. “On the van”, on the other hand, should be used when referring to something that is on top of the van itself.
Here’s an example for each expression:
- I’m in the van and I’m heading to work, but you’re going to have to wait for me.
- The boat he ordered is on the van, we’re going to get it down from there.
No, they are not interchangeable. “In the car” refers to something that is contained inside the car itself, while “On the car” refers to something that is outside of the car, on top of it.
They are both expressions that relate to the placement of objects in relation to a car, but the placement that they refer to are distinct and separate.
According to information sourced by the Google Ngram Viewer, “In the car” is used significantly more than “On the car”, and has seen more use for more than a century.
The information revealed by the Viewer demonstrates the fact that since the year 1907, “In the car” has been more used than “On the car”.
Before this year, “In the car” was still broadly more used than “On the car”, though they were still very close in use.
After 1907, however, the gap in use became immense, and “On the car” has stayed with relatively little use, while “In the car” has grown in use ever since.
This can be assumed to be partially due to the fact that people are more likely to be inside a car than on the top of it.
“At the car” is an expression that should be used when “The car” is treated as a location, and it indicates that the thing the person is talking about is “At the car”.
This expression has a different use than “In the car” and “On the car”. While “In” and “On” are used to talk about the placement of an object in relation to the car, “At the car” talks about the car as the location where the object is.
- I’ll be waiting for you at the car, come down when you’re ready.
- We’re coming out of the rollercoaster, let’s meet at the car.
- At the car you will find a sealed letter with further instructions.
“By the car” is an expression that should be used when referring to an object or thing that is next to the car in question.
In the same vein as “On the car” and “In the car”, “By the car” describes the location of an object in reference to the car in question.
When you say “By the car”, you’re saying that the object is next to the car in some fashion.
- I think I dropped my wallet somewhere by the car.
- She’s by the car, waiting for you to arrive.
- There’s a detective by the car, I think he wants to ask you some questions.
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