‘In' vs 'On': What's the Difference?

By Amy Gilmore, updated on May 24, 2023

Knowing the difference between 'in' vs. 'on' is vital for English speakers and writers. If these two confuse you, this guide will teach you the definitions, usages, and other essential details about these words.

Are you in a hurry? 

If you need a quick answer, here it is: 

  • 'In' is a preposition, adverb, adjective, and noun that implies a position enclosed, encased, or inside a place, position, or emotional state. 
  • 'On' is a preposition, adjective, and adverb indicating the inclusion or position of something. 

These prepositions are some of the most used English words. So, you must know how to use them. So, keep reading to the end of this post.

What is the Difference Between 'In' vs. 'On?'

'In' vs. 'on' are prepositions that suggest a noun's position. However, 'in' means that the position is within something else, while the second indicates the location of something that could be anywhere but not enclosed in something else.

'In' can also be an adverb, adjective, or noun, and 'on' can also be an adjective and an adverb to indicate that something is in the 'on' position or that it is running.

How to Use 'In' vs. 'On'

Keeping these two terms straight can be challenging, with so many ways to use them.

So, how do you know which to use and when? 

Uses of 'In'

  • Use 'in' as a preposition to say that something is inside something else.

For example, you could say:

I want two sugars and three creams in my coffee. 

For example, I might say:

In one hour, we will be at the hotel. 

  • Use 'in' as an adverb to modify an action.

For example, you could say:

Please call me when you get in, and I will send someone to pick you up.

  • Use 'in' as an adjective to modify a noun.

For example, you might hear:

The popular crowd is always in style with the latest trends.

  • Use 'in' as a noun when referencing 'ins' and 'outs' of something.

For example, people sometimes say:

I will teach you the ins and outs of my business if you work hard and apply yourself

Uses of 'On'

  • Use 'on' as a preposition to indicate that something meets at a point of contact with something else or that another supports an object.

For example, you could say:

Please set the dishes on the table. 

  • Use 'on' as a proposition to time to say that something occurs at intervals or at the beginning of the hour.

For example, you could say:

The bus arrives every hour on the hour until 8 pm. 

  • Use 'on' as an adjective to modify a noun and say that something is in alignment.

For example, you may hear someone say:

The latest ad campaign was definitely on brand for that company. 

  • Use 'on' as an adverb to indicate movement forward, advancement, continuance, or the state of being in operation.

For example, you could say:

Stop stalling and come on, or we might miss our chance to pitch the idea. 

Definition of 'In': What Does 'In' Mean?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the primary function of 'in' is as a proposition indicating:

  • The location of something included or within the boundaries of something else

It can also mean:

  • Indication of a specific medium
  • An indicator of quality, circumstances, or other conditions
  • An indicator of something being a portion within a greater amount
  • Toward a forward direction
  • Moving toward a direction or goal
  • Indication of holding an office or rank
  • An operational position
  • Extreme fashion or popularity
  • Something having an incoming direction
  • Something that exists within something else
  • Having influence or sway
  • Knowing the ways of something

Phrases and Terms Containing 'In'

  • In the pink of health
  • In retrospect
  • In respect
  • In regards
  • Inbox
  • Sign in
  • In office
  • In demand
  • In style
  • In crowd
  • In mind
  • In love
  • In a minute
  • In a split second
  • Two peas in a pod
  • In time
  • Input

Definition of 'On': What Does 'On' Mean?

The same dictionary defines the preposition 'on' as:

  • An indication of the position of something being placed atop another object

It can also mean:

  • A position of contact with the outside surface of something
  • Proximity to a landmark or street
  • An indication that held up by something
  • A function to show that an event will occur during a specified day
  • A sign of how something is done
  • The method used to deliver something
  • A function word that indicates someone does something or is engaged in something regularly
  • Used to indicate inclusion in something
  • Used to indicate that something is provided by a person or establishment
  • A function to indicate the direction of something
  • A function to demonstrate impact with something else
  • Used to indicate the direction of emotions
  • Used to show the direction or amount of something

Phrases and Terms Containing 'On'

  • On-demand
  • On target
  • On-time
  • On top
  • On the bottom
  • On air
  • On topic
  • Sign on
  • On par
  • Hop on
  • Go on
  • Come on
  • Rely on
  • Turn on
  • Left on
  • On light
  • On call
  • On the hour
  • On the docket

Pronunciation: How to Pronounce 'In' and 'On'

Now let's take a look at the pronunciation. Luckily, these two words are simple to say.

  • Use these phonetic spellings to pronounce 'in':

in / en

  • Use these phonetic spellings to pronounce 'on':

on / än

Sample Sentences Using 'In' vs. 'On'

You should have a pretty good idea of how to use these words. But before you go, look at these sample sentences to ensure you know how to use them in different contexts.


  • The saying is in the book in the science section of the library.
  • Once you are in the building, ask for Mrs. Jones. She will help you find the office.
  • The new book just came in. Do you want to buy a copy? If so, I will hold it for you at the customer service desk until you can come in to purchase it.
  • Will he be in the office today? If not, I am going to park in his parking spot.
  • I love your new haircut! You are always in style.
  • He is the kind of leader our organization needs. We hope they vote him in during the next election.
  • Are you in the know about his latest invention? He doesn't trust many people. You are definitely in his inner circle if he shared it with you.
  • You are welcome to come with us in January for our family vacation.


  • When will you be on the call? I need your help to get this deal closed.
  • Will you work on the proposal this evening? I need it on time so I have time to review it.
  • If you work on the weekends, when do you get a break?
  • You are on target to exceed your goals for the quarter. Congrats!
  • Are we on schedule? If not, we need to rearrange the afternoon meetings to accommodate everyone.
  • Are you on a payment plan, or do you pay as you go?
  • Will you give me your thoughts on the latest changes?


  • It is challenging to be in a relationship with someone who is on call frequently. You can't make plans because they might have to go into the office.
  • I thought we were in love until he moved on.
  • Do you want to get in on this deal before all the spots are full?
  • You have to feel for someone in her shoes. It can't be easy depending on other people for everything.
  • The restaurant serves a traditional Caesar salad with anchovies in the dressing and delicious housemade croutons on top.
  • Come in here right away!
  • I feel happy when I see the stockings hung on the hooks by the fireplace in the living room.

Last Thoughts on the Difference Between 'In' vs. 'On'

We reviewed a ton of information.

So, here is a quick recap of 'in' vs. 'on': 

  • 'In' suggests that something exists within something else.
  • 'On' indicates the position of something included, above, or supported by something else. 

If these two cause you problems in the future, you can always return to this lesson for a quick review. In the confusing words section here, you can also learn about other commonly misused English words.

We encourage you to share this article on Twitter and Facebook. Just click those two links - you'll see why.

It's important to share the news to spread the truth. Most people won't.

Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

Add new comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

WritingTips.org Newsletter
Receive information on
new articles posted, important topics, and tips.
Join Now
We won't send you spam. Unsubscribe at any time.