I have always thought the proper preposition in collocation with list should be "on", as in

These are the items on the shopping list.

However, I saw this sentence in the Oxford Dictionaries:

So, generally, I put chocolate Easter eggs in the list of things that are different strokes for different folks. (source)

Is it ever correct to say "something in a list"?

  • 1
    I searched for put in|on the|a list in COCA and I found 37 results for put on the list, 16 for put on a list and a single false positive for put in a list (Well, the press secretary's office does put in a list that says here is the people that we think are deserving.).
    – user3395
    Jul 3, 2018 at 23:49
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    I think "in the list" is only possible when the list (or the items it represents) is fixed and unchanging. For example, if there were a list of activities printed on the page of a book, you could write "Choose one activity in the list on page 56." You might search for examples in Google Books; this seems to be the case.
    – user3169
    Jul 4, 2018 at 1:20

1 Answer 1


Is it ever correct to say "something in a list"?

Searching for "in a list", quoted, returns "About 800,000,000 google results." So it would be mind boggling if that were not considered "ever correct."

Searching for "in the list", quoted, returns "About 357,000,000 google results." The very first result from the search is Mirriam-Webster answering exactly this question, "Is it correct to say "on the list" or "in the list"?"


...it is customary and correct to say on the list. Most often, "in the list" is used after some form of the word include, as in the examples shown below.

There are other cases. For example, in Computer Science a variable could be "in an array", or similarly "in a list".

Let's analyze this step by step in more careful detail. Consider the sentence "Put his name on the list." Then, just as an experiment, change it around to "Put his name in the list." The problem with "in" here, is that it implies "inside", such that on a list of 100 people, the new name would go at position number 25, which is "in" the list. However that was not the intention. Almost certainly when you add a name to a list, it would be appended to the end of the list. Being at the very end, it's not quite fitting that it's "in" or "inside" the list. Rather, it's at the end. In fact, the name will be "on the top" or "on the bottom" of the list after it's added. Therefore, "on" fits the situation better.

In the future this same name will literally be "in" a long list of names, somewhere in the middle. If the words "in" or "on" were used in their most basic sense such as "on the table" or "in the pile", then the word "in" would actually be more appropriate when finding a name in a long list of names. So, why does "on" continue to be the right choice? Because it has shifted into an idiomatic usage where discussions of lists are concerned. You just keep using "on" in the context of lists, even where "in" might make more sense.

Yet, from time to time, "in" is still going to appear in sentences because the literal meaning of "in" applies to something within a collection of objects. In conclusion, it appears that "on" is used in an idiomatic sense, while "in" is used in a more literal sense.

  • I'm not implying that what you're saying is incorrect here, but please note that the number of results Google reports is a mere estimate and isn't accurate or precise. For example, I once searched for a phrase in quotes (i.e., "verbatim"), and Google reported millions of results; at the bottom of the same web page, there were only two actual pages of Google results. Anyhow, Google Search isn't a corpus, and even when you use Google Books, take proper care to actually look through the result pages to see how many results there really are. Nice answer, by the way.
    – user3395
    Jul 19, 2018 at 23:42

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