Sunday, May 25, 2008

In, On, and Months

My old friend who calls herself "ahoy" left a question for me about the use of "in" and "on" where months are concerned. I think this will be my third post on these two little words. I'm not surprised about this as these prepositions are really very tricky. So, here goes.

If we talk about what we did (or we're going to do) during the month as a whole, we use in: "In May, we're going to the beach." Or "I went to the beach in May." I'm not sure about the logic of this but I think it has something to do with the lack of specifics. Remember, we use in when we're talking about being surrounded by something. If you don't have any specific dates or times, then it's like saying you're surrounded by (or immersed in) a general time frame.

However, on is used when we're talking about specific dates and times: "On May 14, I was in Boracay." Where specifics are concerned, you have some kind of control, just like controlling the surface of a table, for instance: "I put my papers on the table." If you're talking about a specific date or time, you have some measure of control over that date or time. Remember, on is used for two-dimensional spaces, so specifics are important.

Speaking of "in" and "on," I heard this the other day: "I'm on a car." This is strange because we're in a car but on (or in) a bus and on a plane. This just goes to show how tricky prepositions are. It's best to remember that prepositions don't always have rules that make sense. What learners (and confident users) of English have to know is what these little words mean. The rules themselves can be rather arbitrary, in other words, they don't always follow logic. Often, we use prepositions in certain ways because they've been used in those ways for generations.

Isn't English such a difficult language?

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