If you were to indicate that a subject belongs to a specific field (say, physics), would you say "the subject on physics" or "the subject of physics"?

I found a similar question as to whether "the knowledge on" or "the knowledge of" is correct, and it turns out more native speaker point to "knowledge of" as the standard and correct usage.

Anyway, a search in Netspeak reveals that "subject of" has 7.7 million times of usage as opposed to "subject on" at 169 thousand times. http://www.netspeak.org/#query=subject+%253F

Here's the result from Google.

But I still wonder if the word subject can be followed by "on" and then a specific field (physics), or if I should just always stick to the preposition "of".

I have this question in mind because I found this online news titled "Perkasa Wants Students To Learn This New Subject On The Malaysian Constitution" http://says.com/my/news/perkasa-wants-asas-perlembagaan-to-be-taught-in-schools

Of course, I'm aware the news was not written by a native American.

I was educated to use "on" to indicate a noun belongs to a specific field. Is this a wrong concept that has never been used by native speakers?

  • You could say "psychology is a new subject on the curriculum" which is not the same as your Malaysian reference, which at first reading wants a subject to be part of the constitution of a school, but "the constitution" is the subject to be studied. – Weather Vane Nov 29 '17 at 8:13

According to the Oxford Dictionary, on can mean

  1. Having (the thing mentioned) as a topic; about.

You can have a discussion on..., a thesis on..., a book on... etc., but it doesn't make sense to say "the subject on physics" because subject and topic are synonyms, so "the subject on physics" means "the topic having physics as a topic": it's a snake eating its own tail.

Physics is a type of subject, like Ford is a type of car: we can use of, which can have this meaning:

  1. Expressing the relationship between a general category or type and the thing being specified which belongs to such a category.

So, "the subject of physics" is fine.


I'm not a native speaker, but from what I know the word "subject" as well as "study" can take either preposition "on" or "of" as well as the preposition "in". Personally, I would use either "of" or "in" but never "on".

For instance, we have String Theory or Quantum Field Theory that both equally belong to Physics and Mathematics:

  • String Theory and Quantum Field Theory are the most challenging subjects in/of/on Physics and Mathematics.
  • 1
    As both a native speaker and a physicist, I would definitely not use the definite article in front of string theory or quantum field theory. The word theory can either refer to a single concept, in which case it takes the direct article ("the theory of evolution") or it can refer to a broad subject area that contains many concepts and theorems, in which case it doesn't ("number theory"). String theory and QFT are in the second category. – Canadian Yankee Nov 29 '17 at 15:53
  • @CanadianYankee You seem to indeed be right. Neither of them should be preceded by the definite article. – SovereignSun Nov 29 '17 at 17:15
  • 1
    What you want to say in your example sentence is that these two particular subjects are within the scope of Physics and Mathematics. in is the best preposition, of barely works because they are a part of... but on does not have a meaning that works in this context. en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/on – JavaLatte Oct 14 '18 at 6:49

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