• Morgan Fagg

What are you on about?

Get on board with these confusing prepositions

ON A HIGH: I look out the window and wonder about the small things, the ins and outs of English prepositions.

As you board the International Space Station and walk around inside, I wonder if the international crews get confused with English prepositions.

I am always a little confused by English prepositions and hate descriptions such as, “On TV” and imagine this description comes from a much more sensible description of being “On Stage.”

Are you on the radio when you are on air or were people on drugs when they came up with these descriptions?


I understand to be on a bike as you physically sit on the saddle but I wonder why we don’t say in a plane, in a bus, train or submarine. I always imagine it has something to with earlier technology where you strode on top of a bi-plane like it was a horse and sat on early subway systems that weren’t enclosed.

Riding a train like a rollercoaster just sounds terrifying to me but the explanation I have always come across for saying on a train, plane, bus or boat is that you are boarding the vehicle. You are stepping onboard a spacious vehicle in which you will have to walk to your seat.

The same is not true of cars of course as you are clearly in/on your seat within the car and you don’t have to walk around looking for a seat.

Wait, do prepositions change when you drive a convertible?

In the vacuum of space, you really need to know your prepositions if you want a position onboard the ISS but for me, I wonder if someone is in or on the International Space Station and I can’t imagine such confusing references have made life any easier for all the international people learning to speak English as a second language.

Just something on my mind that I thought I would share, keep it in mind, the next time someone says, What’s on the tv?”

What are you on about?

What are you on about? = What are you talking about?

What are you on? = It implies that they might be on drugs.

You might ask this question if someone says something strange.

Ins and outs = The details or "nuts and bolts" of an idea

On Your bike = Can mean, Get out of here or go away

Keep in mind = Remember it

On my mind = Something you are thinking about

Get onboard = To get onboard a boat or plane, you are agreeing to enter the vehicle and go somewhere, likewise to get onboard can mean to agree to something.

Example: Who is onboard with the new environmental policies? Who agrees with them?

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