English as a Second Language/Prepositions


QUESTION: Dear Brian,

What is the correct prepositions in relation to 'tree' and 'bus'?

- There is a bird in/on the tree.
- There is a man in/on the bus.

If both prepositions are correct according to British and American English, will there be a difference in meaning in using 'on' instead of 'in'?

Thanks in advance.

Best regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

ANSWER: Hi Antione!

Sorry to keep you waiting so long.

The correct sentence constructions are as follows:

- There is a bird in the tree.
- There is a man on the bus.

There is a definite distinction between "in the tree" and "on the tree", to the extent that "on the tree" is probably wrong.

However, while "on the bus" is the most common collocation, technically speaking, "in the bus" would be correct as well, and "on the bus" could mean two distinct things!

Hope that helps!

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for your kind reply!

Would "there is a bird in the tree" mean that the bird in itd nest which is in the tree and "there is a bird on the tree" that the bird is on a branch of the tree?

On the other hand, what would I say if the man is on the roof of the bus? Would "on the bus" be also used to mean this?

Hi again!

Thanks for the interesting follow up questions.

You are correct in your assessment of "bird in the tree", but a bird on a tree sounds like the bird is positioned specifically at the highest point of the tree, rather than on a branch (which would still be within the tree and all its parts).

Interesting question about the bus!  The first locution that comes to mind is "the man is on TOP OF the bus" or, more specifically "the man is on THE ROOF OF the bus".  Native English speakers wouldn't confuse a man who enters a bus (on the bus) with a man who is on the roof of a bus.  :)

Hope that helps!

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Brian Connelly


I can answer pretty much any question a student might have about English; about grammar, vocabulary, meanings of words, phrases, expressions or idioms, pronunciation, etc. I can answer questions about how to learn or study English better, how to improve certain aspects of communication (listening, writing, speaking, etc), about why we have certain rules.


I've been teaching English in Japan, mainly as a private (one-to-one) teacher, but also at companies such as Universal Studios or international airports. I have taught professional interpreters and translators and I have also taught students who dropped out of high school and never learned any English. Several years ago I acquired the CELTA and I have been running my own classroom for the past year.

None in particular, but I work with a number of companies who regularly introduce me to new students and occasionally to other companies that are looking for English teachers.


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I currently have approximately 40 individual students with whom I work one on one. I have also worked with local manufacturing companies, colleges, local retailers, as well as Sharp, Universal Studios, Itami International Airport, Kobe International Airport

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