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I always use the preposition on before a bus. But today when I was reading a novel (The Bridge Across Forever) I noticed the writer used the preposition in before a bus so I got confused and landed here to get some help on it.

A still from the novel-

No sooner had I fallen asleep in the bus?

I guess, I know why the writer used the preposition in before the bus but I just want to make sure that my point is correct. I thought, experts could help me in a much better way so I landed here.

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on means at the top of something - where in means inside of something so you probably don't want to fall asleep on a bus instead you probably would like to fall a sleep "in" a bus.. –  Berker Yüceer Aug 7 at 10:54
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@BerkerYüceer Thanks for your quick response! But we use the preposition "on" before a bus in English. –  user62015 Aug 7 at 11:31
    
I understand that but I actually meant is native speakers of English language are usually likes to change the words on behalf of the rhyme. Actually any native speaker of any language does that but to be serious about it using "in" is more accurate. –  Berker Yüceer Aug 7 at 11:53
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@BerkerYüceer I'm afraid I can't tell what point you're making in your comments. On is the unmarked choice for someone who is riding a bus under normal circumstances. This has nothing to do with rhyme, accuracy, or being a careful speaker. –  snailboat Aug 7 at 14:04
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@BerkerYüceer there isn't really an explanation here, except the fact the prepositions (in all languages) can be unusual and break expectations. You are correct that using "on" seems strange here, when the simple meaning of on is "on top of something". However, when talking about riding transportation, "on" is the normal preposition. –  David Hall Aug 7 at 14:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Both prepositions are correct but have slightly different meanings here, depending on how the author considers the bus. The interpretation also depends on context1.

"On the bus" considers the bus functionally as a form of transport.

"In the bus" emphasises that the bus is a place.

So if I read that someone "fell asleep in the bus", my first impression is that the bus is not in use (maybe it is abandoned somewhere, or maybe the character in the novel broke into the bus company's parking lot and got on a bus at night).

If I read instead that someone "fell asleep on that bus", I imagine it to be a bus that is in use as transportation, so the character caught the bus and fell asleep while it travelled to its destination.


(so far as I can think, this use of on is limited to forms of transportation. One can be on a bus, on a ship or on a plane, while actually being inside. As others have pointed out, if you said you were "on that house" you would be standing on the roof.


  1. It is possible to be on a bus that is not in service and vice versa, but that is unusual and requires additional context.
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You have my +1. Now, my 8th grade teacher told me never to follow someone's correct answer with "I thought of it too!" after you've had your chance and that it's very bad manners. So I will keep my silence. –  Sam Aug 7 at 14:26
    
@coldfire101 yes - sorry for seeming to steal your answer :( I'd drafted mine a few minutes after the question was asked but wasn't quite happy with it. Anyway, you have my +1 –  David Hall Aug 7 at 14:35
    
Nevermind. Nice explanation in the answer btw :) –  Sam Aug 8 at 6:58
    
I think it may be worth emphasizing the role of the bus as a shared transport whose motion is not particularly affected by the person boarding it. –  supercat Aug 26 at 17:39

You can use both "on" and "in".

Though we often hear people using the former, "in" is just as appropriate. Logically, we would expect it to be "in" but "on" is a commonly used collocation while talking about Buses, Trains etc.

I personally feel "in" refers more to the inside of the bus itself and that's how I would probably interpret it, at first glance, if I ever come across such usage.

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