Difference Between In vs On

Difference Between In vs On

Today we’re going to completely lay out the difference between in and on in a super accessible format that you’ll easily understand. We know that many people mistake these two words when creating written text, which is why we want to provide you with some simple definitions and a reference table highlighting their variations.

Definition of In

The definition of in is: “To be within an internal space.”

When you’re summarizing in vs on, it’s all about understanding where the location of something would be if it was being placed in either physical state. With the above definition, we’ve got our first clue. When a person or item is in something, this means that they are located on the inside of something else. There are endless examples we could draw on to give us a visual reference.

When you enter a building, the moment you walk through the front doors, you’re then “in” the building. This is because you’re on the inside as dictated by the presence of an enclosure due to there being walls. When you put cutlery into the dishwasher, you’re placing an object “in” to another object. This is due to the presence of dishwasher walls creating an enclosure.

An enclosure of some kind must be present for any item or person to be contained in, or inside of something else. If a person is standing in the open air, they are not in something.

We need to introduce boundaries to successfully create a space where something else can be successfully placed inside it, or “in” it. It’s through the creation of limitations that we can provide an effective summary of what being in something means. In can also be used in speech to reference a moment that is specifically enclosed in time.

Definition of On

The definition of on is: “To have a person or object located on the top of another person or object.”

To provide a summary of the difference between on and in, we can draw on the presence of an enclosure again to assist our cause. To be on something, no enclosure needs to be present. Instead, in this instance, something needs be placed on the top of something else.

All that is required to create a state where something is on something else is the presence of any object or person. It doesn’t matter where this item or individual is located, either. The crucial element is the location of the additional object or person.

Once an object or person is already in place, when something else or someone else is placed directly onto them, this then means that the additional object is on something else.

As with the word in, there are some super simple visual references we can draw on to help us sum up what “on” means. The first example would be stacking bricks, whereas one brick is placed on another to achieve elevated height.

Another example would be the simple task of standing up. To stand up, we must place our feet on the ground. To help us visually summarize what on looks like, try to remember that something must be placed underneath something else to create the state of “on.” On can also be used as part of speech to make reference to days, dates, and locations.

Main Differences Between In vs On

Below is a reference table highlighting the variations between on vs in.

Basis of ComparisonOnIn
MeaningTo be on something elseTo be inside something else
Word TypeAn adjective as well as an adverbCan’t always be used as an adverb
Usage in timeMainly days and datesSeasons, decades years and months
Associated locationsStreetsCities, states, nations, city names
ExamplesTo stand on the grassTo sit in a room

Difference Between In and On: Conclusion

After today’s summary, you should now finally understand the areas where these two words differ. To summarize them easily, remember that on relates to being on top of something, and in relates to being inside something. That’s the key variation at the heart of the comparison.