“In the mountain” and “on the mountain” differ according to the preposition of place. This differs further in the plural sense of “in the mountains” and “on the mountains”. So, let’s look at how each structure is used.
“In The Mountain” or “On The Mountain” – Which Is Correct?
The phrase “on the mountain” refers to something which is, literally, on top of the mountain or on the side of a mountain. However, “in the mountain” refers to the interior; something located inside the mountain, such as a mine or a cave. For that reason, they are not interchangeable.
The plural form “in the mountains”, however, has a different sense of being “among” the mountains. This is widely used to mean any location in a mountainous area. The phrase “on the mountains” is confined to any phenomenon which applies to several mountains simultaneously.
In The Mountain
The phrase “in the mountain” is used to refer to something inside the mountain itself. This could be a spring or a cave, or activity, in the case of a volcano. For this reason, the singular sense of “in the mountain” has a narrow range of applications.
However, the plural form “in the mountains” conveys the sense of being “among” mountains. It is used much more often. This is commonly used to describe any setting located beside or surrounded by mountains.
Here are a few examples of how to use “in the mountain” in a sentence:
- There is a labyrinth of caves in the mountain.
- The residents of Pompeii awoke to clouds of ash and smoke and a rumbling sound in the mountain.
- There is rumoured to be a rich seam of gold ore in the mountain.
- The residents of the city like to go walking in the mountains at the weekend.
- She could not decide whether to live near the beach or to live in the mountains.
- The ski chalet is in the mountains north of Chamonix.
- While they love to go walking in the mountains, they have no desire to climb any of the peaks.
On The Mountain
The phrase “on the mountain” refers to something that is on top of a mountain or on the side of a mountain. The plural form “on the mountains” has a narrower application since it requires the subject to cover more than one mountain, which is true in the case of rainfall.
The phrase “on the mountain” has a specific sense of being on a slope at high altitude. For example, a climber on Mount Everest might spend several days “on the mountain”. Living permanently “on the mountain” is rare and would be better expressed as living “in the mountains”.
Here are a few examples of how to use “on the mountain” in a sentence:
- The helicopter landed on the mountain to rescue the stranded climbers.
- The path became treacherous after the mist descended and so they were forced to spend another night on the mountain.
- There is a refuge on the mountain and climbers are invited to rest there overnight before making the final ascent to the top.
- There is a legend that tells of a strange humanoid creature that lives alone on the mountain.
- From the hotel room window, they could see a carpet of tiny flowers on the mountains.
At The Mountain
When a point on the mountain is added, such as “the foot” or “the top”, the expression becomes “at the foot of the mountain” or “at the top of the mountain”. “At the top of the mountain” is a more general location than “on the top of the mountain”.
The expression “at the mountain” also has a more obscure meaning of a meeting place or locality, where people are drawn from afar. This is a more general idea of a famous landmark or known point of assembly, especially for religious purposes.
Here are some examples of how to use “at the mountain” in a sentence:
- In ancient times, pilgrims gathered at the mountain to offer prayers and consult with the oracle.
- The trail begins in the centre of the village, then passes through the forest until it ends abruptly at the foot of the mountain
- There is a viewing point and a restaurant at the top of the mountain.
- They agreed to take separate routes and meet at the top of the next mountain.
- The festival took place at the sacred mountain of Olympus.
Which Is Used The Most?
Since there are more applications for the exterior than the interior of a mountain, it follows that the Google Ngram Viewer records more usage of “on the mountain” than “in the mountain”. The phrase “at the mountain”, with its narrower sense, is used least of all.
Martin holds a Master’s degree in Finance and International Business. He has six years of experience in professional communication with clients, executives, and colleagues. Furthermore, he has teaching experience from Aarhus University. Martin has been featured as an expert in communication and teaching on Forbes and Shopify. Read more about Martin here.