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Transportation Prepositions: In, On, By (Uses, Examples, Practice, and Audio Reading Included)

Updated: Jul 27, 2023



Recommended level: Intermediate


"Is it 'ON the bus' or 'IN the bus'?"

Quick Reference

  • Use "on" for large vehicles which you can stand and walk around in (a bus, an airplane, a train, a metro/subway car, a cruise ship, a boat).

  • Use "in" for (usually) smaller vehicles or crafts that you have to enter and sit in (a car, a taxi, a truck, a helicopter, a canoe, a kayak, a small boat, a carriage, a rickshaw).

  • Use "on" for smaller vehicles which require you to sit on a seat with one leg on each side, and which typically have handlebars (a motorcyle, a scooter, a bicycle, an ATV, a snowmobile, a unicycle).

  • Use "on" for vehicles which require you to stand to use them (a Segway, a skateboard, a hoverboard, etc.)

  • Use "by" for almost all forms of transportation to mention how you traveled somewhere (Example: "Is it cheaper to travel there by car or by train?")

In English, choosing between on and in is important, and knowing which one to use when talking about transportation can be tricky--but it doesn't have to be. Today, we'll learn how to use each one, and I'll make it easier for you to express yourself accurately when discussing different ways of getting around. So, let's begin and let's make things clearer.


(By the way, "getting around" means traveling or moving between different places. You can "get around" by bus, by car, by train, etc. Oh, and there will be more on this topic later.)


Okay, so the basic difference between on and in for transportation is this:


On is typically used for larger forms of transportation, such as buses, planes, trains, subways or metros, cruise ships, and big boats. If you can stand up and walk around a form of transportation in order to find a place to sit, you are on that form of transportation. Here are some examples:


"We were on the bus for over 45 minutes."


"You can eat all you want on a cruise ship."


"Have you ever been on a plane before?"


"I've never been on a train."


"Sorry about the connection. I'm on the subway."


In is typically used with smaller vehicles or crafts that you have to enter and sit in, such as cars, taxis, trucks, carriages, rickshaws, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, or smaller boats in general. If you don't have a lot of room to move and you can't really stand up and comfortably walk around to find a place to sit, you are in that form of transportation. Note these examples:


"I'm in a taxi right now. I'll see you in 15 or 20 minutes."


"How many people can fit in your car?"


"I've never been in a rickshaw."


"Don't stand in the canoe! It's going to tip over!"


"I saw Tom and Dina in a carriage around Central Park."


Basically, for most modes of transportation, on equals more freedom of movement, and in equals less freedom of movement.


But wait! What about motorcycles, skidoos, skateboards, ATVs, and snowmobiles? That's a great question, and this one is easier to understand because it's also more logical than saying "I'm on the bus."


In short, if you can stand on or sit on a (usually) single-person or two-person vehicle or piece of sports equipment, use on. This includes vehicles which require you to place your legs on either side of the seat--and which have handlebars--such as bikes, motorcycles, ATVs, Vespas, and snowmobiles, and vehicles which you stand on and partially control with your body weight, such as skateboards, Segways, hoverboards, and scooters. Once again, you don't have a lot of freedom of movement with these vehicles.


Now is a good time to practice what we have learned so far. Answer these questions:


When was the last time you were on a bus?


Have you ever been on a cruise ship?


What's the longest amount of time that you have ever spent in a car? How about in a taxi?


Have you ever been on a motorcycle?


Just a few more things about "on" and "in"

You can be on an elevator or in an elevator, but you can only be on an escalator. To practice talking about elevators, answer this question:


Have you ever gotten stuck on/in an elevator?


Also, if you say "I'm in the subway" or "I'm in the metro," you mean you are walking underground, but not necessarily that you are traveling on a subway or metro train. However, you can refer to one individual section of a subway train by saying you are "in a subway car."


In addition, people will sometimes say "I'm in the bus" or "I'm in the plane" to emphasize that they are inside the bus, the plane, etc. However, on is still considered the most standard and common form in these cases. So, just to try to stick to using on.


Next, let's talk about entering and exiting modes of transportation.


"Get in," "Get on," "Get off," "Get out of"

The verb get is often used to talk about entering or climbing on to, and exiting or climbing off of these modes of transportation. Depending on the situation, "get on" and "get in" are used for entering something or for sitting on something. For example:


"Get in the car."


"Get on your skateboard and let's go."


"I got on the bus at 7 a.m."


"I'm getting in a taxi right now."



In a similar way, "get off" and "get out of" are used for exiting or climbing off of something. Note the examples:


"We need to get off the subway at the next station."


"Can I get out of the car, please?"


"Why are you getting out of the boat?"


"I would never try to get off a moving train."


With all of that in mind, if someone is encouraging you to enter a bus or train, they might say "Get in!" or "Get on!" with equal confidence. I'm sorry. I didn't make these rules. I'm just doing my best to explain what people actually say in these situations.


To finish, let's answer two more practice questions:


How much does it cost to get on a bus in your area?


Have you ever taken a bus, train, or subway and accidentally gotten off at the wrong stop?


The final stop: A quick word on "by"

The word by is used with almost all forms of transportation. It is used for mentioning how you travel, traveled, will travel, or are traveling somewhere. Here are some examples to help you see it in action:


"Did you travel by bus or metro?"


"Should we go by bike or scooter?"


"We got here by car."


"Can we get there by train?"


"It will take us forever to get there by skateboard."


"Do you want to go to the park by bike or on foot?" ("On foot" is an irregularity when we are talking about transportation. If you travel somewhere on foot, it means you walk there.)


Well, now that's it! Whether you prefer to travel by bus, bike, or rickshaw, I hope you found this page useful.


If you did, and you would like to continue improving your English--while supporting my work at the same time--consider purchasing my book 100 Practical English Phrasal Verbs. It is available in PDF, e-Book, and paperback formats. Thank you, and good luck with your studies!

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