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What is the difference between, "The book was very boring and it belonged in a dustbin" and "The uniform looks like it belonged to a museum collection".

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Belong to is generally possessive:

This book belongs to me = This is my book.

Belong in (or on or_under_, etc) indicates that something should be in (or on, or under) a certain position:

This book belongs in a dustbin = This book should be in a dustbin.

In case of the museum collection, actually both are possible, but they have a different meaning:

The uniform looks like it belonged to a museum collection.

It looks like there is a museum that has this uniform in its collection. The uniform looks like it was removed from that collection.

The uniform looks like it belonged in a museum collection.

This uniform may not literally be taken from a museum, but it should be in a museum.

Another example to show the difference:

That car looks like it belongs to John's collection.

The car may have been stolen from John.

That car looks like it belongs in John's collection.

I think John should buy that car. It fits with the rest of his collection.

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Small typo: may bot, otherwise very good answer :) – Tom Hart Aug 28 '14 at 13:08
Just reading the sentence, would it read clearer if instead of both it said not? – Tom Hart Aug 28 '14 at 13:41
Yes, absolutely. It makes no sense with both. If hasty editing were a punishable offence I would certainly get to serve hard time. :) – oerkelens Aug 28 '14 at 13:59
Haha we all do it time to time :P. – Tom Hart Aug 28 '14 at 14:03

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