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I think, and this comes probably from personal experience, that "in the arena" mostly refers to an arena that is inside some cage or enclosed by walls whereas "on the arena" refers to an non-enclosed arena.

Am I right?

  • They fought bravely on/in the arena.
  • That wasn't big an arena they watched them fight on/in.
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  • Some example sentences would be helpful. – user3169 Jan 6 '18 at 7:30
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    I've never seen "on the arena", but if you give some examples, it might refresh my memory. (I have seen "in the arena".) – Nick Jan 6 '18 at 8:03
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    The word arena can refer indirectly to the people in the arena or to the arena as a place irrespective of its enclosure. A hush fell on the arena. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Jan 6 '18 at 13:15
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    But if they're fighting, it's always in the arena, because they are inside it. Fighting on the arena would mean they're on top of it. Sorry, SovereignSun, but your interpretation about enclosed vs. non-enclosed is incorrect. – stangdon Jan 6 '18 at 13:55
  • @stangdon So "on" here can only indirectly refer to people? And "in" is the only correct choice even if an arena is just a spot on the ground? – SovereignSun Jan 6 '18 at 14:50
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The action always happens in an arena, but arena can also be a physical building


For your specific question, the correct term is always:

They fought in the arena.

This is because the arena is whatever area the fight happens to be taking place within. Whether that's a circle drawn on the floor, or a full fighting ring.

However, it's worth noting that if you mention a specific part of the area - you could use on, as you are referring to that location and not the arena as a whole:

There was blood on the arena floor.


This said, an Arena (2.b) can be:

a building containing an arena

As such, if you are speaking about the building (also called an "arena"), you could talk about people on top of it, or anything else happening to it.


As a side note, although the actual action happens within an arena. Things may happen external/around it.

For example:

The audience's gaze fell upon the arena.
The lights dimmed on the arena floor.
The crowd gathered around the arena.
The announcer filled the arena with sound.

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'On the arena' is an unusual phrasing- most often in English we would say 'in the arena', but the specific examples raised above about enclosed and open spaces probably applies in everyday usage.

The word 'arena' comes from the Latin for 'sand strewn place of combat'. I think any armed combat on sand- like gladiatorial combat, say- could arguably be said to take place 'on the arena', to avoid tautology.

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I think that based on how to figure the arena, some would think 'in' is proper to use, but on the other hand if someone would regard it as a kind of flat ground, then 'on' should be more proper.

Anyway, it seems to be more right to know 'arena' is something like 'dome' because most native speakers draw it in mind as such.

And context is absolutely an important element in making sentences because, though you already know well, it makes effect on choosing prepositions, and as Tᴚoɯɐuo pointed out, if something were falling above the arena, then we can depict the situation as if it were attached on the arena, so in this perspective 'on' is more correct than 'in'.

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