I was listening to some old song, "XXXXXX is a place on earth".
I was wondering whether the meaning would change if I replaced "on earth" with "in the world", so I typed these keywords on the Google search:

In the world + meaning

And then Google told me this:

in the world phrase of world
1. used to express astonishment or disbelief in questions.
"why in the world did you not reveal yourself sooner?"

Does this mean that I can not use "in the world" in non-question sentences?
If I write

I believe that there are many nice people in the world.

Is my sentence wrong then, because I use "in the world" this way?

Please help me.

  • 2
    You can use either to mean literally "on the planet, on Earth" in declarative statements. The figurative meaning (astonishment, surprise, disbelief) comes into play with Who, what, when, where, why, and how. {x} on earth... and {x} in the world.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:31
  • 1
    you could get the same meaning with earth, too: "What on earth is that for an answer?"
    – Hector von
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 20:42
  • We're much more likely to ask Why on earth...? rather than Why in the world...?, but other than that the two forms are equivalent. There are plenty of alternative ways to add emphasis though - for example Why in God's name did you do that? Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 15:56
  • ...but note that whereas it's fine to ask In God's name, why did you leave? or For the love of Mike / For Pete's sake, why did you go?, you can't ask In the world, why did you leave? Commented Jan 2, 2023 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


Certain expressions using question words + "in the world" do indicate surprise, disbelief, exasperation, puzzlement, and various other emotions:

How in the world did you get here?

Where in the world did I put my keys?

What in the world is she talking about?

In other sentences it represents a kind of fanciful exaggeration:

There's nowhere in the world I'd rather be than here with you.

You're the best mother in the world!

Broccoli is the most disgusting food in the world!

Otherwise it's just descriptive:

Noodles, in one form or another, are eaten by many people in the world.

  • 1
    The idiom is "why, how, where, what, when in the world [verb in question form].
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 23:26
  • 1
    @Lambie it's more than just that short list. Any kind of "question word" (interrogative word) will do: Howsoever, whether, whence, whomever, wherefore, etc.
    – Andrew
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 23:33
  • Look I find your explanation a bit on the short side. Most of my answers give the standard, basic usage. The words you have added, I might add, are not usually associated in common speech with/ in the world/ and /on earth/. Most of them are today would only be used in several times of formal writing and are rarely used in speech. They sound positively Dickensian. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 17:41

The phrase "in the world" all by itself simply specifies a location (somewhere on earth).

Because the whole world is a big place, the phrase "in the world" can be used to intensify certain expressions. For example "I have every reason in the world to think ill of you." (Pride and Prejudice)

When "in the world" is added to statements about the unexpected it raises them to the level of astonishment. For example

Where did you get that?

This probably refers to something mundane such as "Why do you have my hairbrush?"

Where in the world did you get that?

This means "Wow! Is there a place on earth where you can get those?"


The interrogative pronouns: what, where, who, when and why and how [adverbs] are followed by a verb in interrogative form.

What in the world are you doing here? How in the world did you get into the house without a key? When in the world did I ever say that to you? Where in the world did you buy that hat? Why in the world would you want to do that? Astonishment or disbelief

In the world and on earth are the same thing here. It is only when preceded by that kind of question word that it denotes surprise, astonishment or disbelief.

Of all the places in the world, this place is best. Never in the world was he going to get it right. The best place on earth is here.

But, they can used in regular sentences or to refer to actually something in the world.

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