As far as I know, "on a tool" means that someone is using that tool and "over a tool" means that something is done using that tool as a way to do it.

For example:

I have accepted the job over the phone.

Be quiet, I am on the phone.

Then I just saw this sentence below:

I do all my household accounts on the computer.

Isn't it more appropriate to use "over" in this sentence above?

I do all my household accounts over the computer

  • 1
    The word on has way too many usages and meanings to make a sweeping generalization like: “on a tool” means someone is using that tool. In fact, the sentence “He is on the radio” has at least four different meanings that I can think of, and only one of those four aligns with your meaning.
    – J.R.
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 10:57
  • Over a tool, to me, would mean you did something while your body was physically above the tool, but doesn't imply even using the tool. Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:11

1 Answer 1


These cases can be very hard to understand, as the organising ideas are not hard rules and there are many special cases.

Over is usually used with a medium of communications, not a general tool.

I sent my order

  • over email
  • over telex
  • over the radio
  • over the phone
  • over the computer
  • over the loudspeaker
  • over the wire

If the thing being done is implicitly sent (an order, a tax return, a message), then you can use

I did my tax return

  • over the computer (or any of the other previous mediums)

But by can also be used with a means

I do my accounts

  • by hand
  • by computer
  • by magic
  • by email
  • by fax
  • by radio
  • by phone
  • by post (UK)
  • by mail (US)

An actual tool is normally with

I do my accounts

  • with a calculator
  • with a computer
  • with a pen

You use on for things which can be surfaces: flat things such as desks, paper, screens, and also for transports

I do my accounts

  • on the web
  • on the computer
  • on a computer
  • on a desk
  • on a piece of paper
  • on my phone (I use an app on mobile phone)
  • on the phone (I tell my accountant and they do it)
  • on the train (I am on the train when I do it)

If there is a sense of the place being inside something else:

  • in the computer
  • in a spreadsheet
  • in a book
  • in my head
  • 1
    I dunno about the tax return part. I would say ON the computer there. if need be, OVER the INTERNET (as opposed to computer), because the internet is the medium. Commented May 10, 2019 at 15:09
  • I would interpret "I did my tax return..." as meaning preparation, not transmission- so on would be appropriate. A clearer example of a tax return as a transmission would be "I filed my tax return over...", but as @Athenosity says, "over the internet", or maybe "via the internet" might be better... or simply online.
    – JavaLatte
    Commented Oct 15, 2019 at 4:55

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