In or on: Which preposition belongs to which room in the house?

Sometimes pieces in the language section make up the story of a pelican wand almost unnoticed. For example, on Wednesday it was about “in”, “in” or “under” the porch. This issue raised reader questions about similar issues.

Like why you are sometimes “inside” and sometimes “in” a particular room in the house. You are ‘in the living room’, but you can be ‘in’ and ‘in the bedroom’. You can be “in the hall” or “on the ground floor”, but you can be “in” and “in the hallway.” The basement can only be used with “in”, while the attic and the upper floor can only be combined with “on”: one is “in (attic)”. The last case could be a remnant of the time when the attic referred to a roof terrace rather than a roofed room at the top of the building. Once you replace “attic” with “attic room,” the word “in” is useful again: something is “in the attic room or in the attic room.”

subtle difference in meaning

The difference between hall, landing and corridor can also be etymologically explained: the hall was from the beginning a covered room (the basement of the house), while the landing and the corridor could originally have been an exposed connection between buildings or parts of them. There may also be a correlation between the choice of the preposition and the location of the room: the living and dining rooms were usually located in the basement (you ‘there’), and the bedrooms and bathrooms were often upstairs (you could ‘enter’ there, but also be on’ ).

Finally, the difference in choice between on and in is sometimes associated with a subtle difference in meaning. In combination with ‘at’, study and office refer to the room’s function (“I’m at my study/office” roughly synonymous with “I’m at work”), while the same words primarily refer to room when you call in: ‘I’m at my study’ / my office”. Not to mention the regional differences in the use of on and in …

In the Language section, grammatical controversies, language puzzles and other linguistic doubts are explained to you by Peter-Arno Coppen and Ton den Boon. Also a language question? mail to [email protected] From [email protected].

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