The prepositions “on” and “in” can be some of the trickiest ones in the English Language to master since they both refer to the location of something. Here we review the phrases “sitting in a chair,” and “sitting on a chair,” and instruct on the proper terminology to use.
Is It “Sitting In A Chair” Or “Sitting On A Chair”?
“Sitting in a chair” refers to being seated in a chair that has arms or is appropriate for lounging. You are “in” the chair because your body is enclosed by it. “On a chair,” refers to a less-comfortable seating option, typically without arms or not suitable for lounging.
To choose the best one, you must consider the type of chair to which you are referring.
However, the phrase “in a chair” is acceptable no matter what type of chair is being discussed. The phrase “on a chair,” should only be used for certain types of chairs. These instances include chairs that do not have arms or are not able to be used for lounging.
What Does It Mean To Sit “In A Chair”?
“In a chair” means that the chair where you are sitting has arms or is appropriate for lounging in (like a recliner). You are technically “in the chair” in these instances and not “on the chair.” This is because you are surrounded by the chair on three sides.
However, this phrase is universally accepted to be applied to any type of chair, even those without arms. It also applies to seats that are not technically chairs, like airplane seats or seats in a car.
Here are some examples:
- Sit in a chair and wait for me, I’ll be back out in a second.
- You’re welcome to sit in a chair and relax while I finish making dinner.
- I like to sit in a chair with a cozy blanket while I watch movies.
- Are you more comfortable sitting in a chair or on the couch?
- I’d like to sit in the chair for a little while and try it out first before I buy it.
- Sit in a chair over there and wait until the doctor is available to see you.
What Does It Mean To Sit “On A Chair”?
When you sit “on a chair” it typically refers to a less-comfortable chair that you could not use to lounge (i.e., sit in the chair). For example, you could sit “on” a dining chair, school chair, etc. Generally, these chairs do not have arms.
More often, the preposition “on” is used to describe the act of sitting on a bench or on a stool. See how these options are less comfortable. When referring to a chair, the preferred preposition is “in.”
In addition, the phrase “on a chair” or “on the chair” is always used when talking about an object that is placed on a chair instead of a person.
Here are some examples of the phrase “on a chair” used in a sentence:
- Everyone in the class must sit on a chair for the duration of the lesson.
- Place the books on the chair in my office so I’ll see them.
- I put your jacket on a chair in my bedroom.
- My cat likes to sit on a chair by the window and look at the birds.
- Would you rather sit on a chair or on the bench at the dining room table.
Are “On A Chair” And “In A Chair” Interchangeable?
The phrase “in a chair,” can always be used when referring to a person sitting in a chair. Therefore, it is interchangeable with “on a chair,” when referring to people. For objects and pets, you should always use “on a chair” and not “in a chair.”
These examples show instances where “on a chair” and “in a chair” are NOT interchangeable.
- (Correct) My phone is over there on a chair in the corner.
- (Incorrect) My phone is over there in a chair in the corner.
These examples show instances where “on a chair” and “in a chair” CAN be used interchangeably.
- (Correct) Sit in a chair at the dinner table until everyone has finished.
- (Incorrect) Sit on a chair at the dinner table until everyone has finished.
Is “On A Chair” Or “In A Chair” Used The Most?
Both the phrases “on a chair” and “in a chair” are used regularly in the English Language. However, In modern-day language, the phrase “in a chair” is used more often.
The Google Ngram Viewer here shows the usage trends of both phrases. You can see that throughout most of history both phrases were used regularly and at a similar rate. Since the early 2000s, the phrase both phrases have risen in usage, but the phrase “in a chair” has shown a larger spike.
Are “On A Chair” And “In A Chair” Used Differently In The US And The UK?
Both “on a chair” and “in a chair” are used regularly in the US and the UK. However, the US language favors the expression “in a chair” slightly more than English speakers in the UK.
As you can see, in American English there is a great separation between the usage of the two phrases. In British English, both expressions are used at an almost exactly similar rate.
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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.