When do we say "on a place" instead of "in a place"? I was told that saying "landed on a place" is wrong, why is that? Is there any situation where "on a place is appropriate"?

For example:

"The plane landed on the appropriate place."

"The space debris landed on that place."

"The plane landed on New York."


3 Answers 3


You use on to refer to a physical place, like a house or a runway

The plane landed on the runway.

You would use in to refer to locations within a larger area, like a city

The plane landed in New York.

You could use at, if you meant a specific location or adress

The plane landed at the airport


There's a different implied action when you talk about something like debris landing on some location, and something like an airplane landing in some city (or at its destination). "Land on" is the phrasal verb associated with either an uncontrolled descent onto some surface or object

Debris from the explosion of the experimental plane mostly landed on a stretch of unoccupied desert.

"Surprise attack!" the boys yelled as they threw the water balloons out the upstairs window so that they landed on their father below, as he was working in the backyard.

or a controlled descent to some surface.

I carefully tossed the Frisbee across the room so that it landed on the kitchen table.

"Land in" suggests instead a descent into some region, or location where it makes more sense to describe being inside rather than on top of.

The pilot of the plane, who ejected safely, somehow managed to end up landing in someone's backyard. He quickly folded up his parachute, and looked up only to have a hailstorm of water balloons land on his head. "This has been a very unusual day," he thought to himself.

As is typical with English, it's hard to say specifically whether to use "on" or "in" when describing the landing destination. An airplane lands on a runway, but in New York City. The ejected pilot can land on a stretch of farmland, or in the middle of a grove of orange trees. Once you hear enough examples it should start to make sense.


Generally speaking, if you replace on with on top of and the sentence still makes sense, then using on is fine.

The use of on implies one thing resting above, and in contact with, something else. The use of in implies something inside of, or being surrounded by, another thing.

You can also replace in with somewhere in in order to make that sense more clear.

Context determines the suitability of the preposition.

For instance, both of these make sense:

  • The debris landed on (top of) the ground.
  • The debris landed (somewhere) in the field.

However, swapping the prepositions in the individual sentences would be strange or change the meaning:

  • The debris landed (somewhere) in the ground.

    This implies the debris embedded itself inside the ground. Landing is an odd verb in that sense, because when you land you don't normally disturb the surface you come into contact with. If that were the intended meaning, it would likely be phrased differently:

    The debris crashed into the ground.

  • ? The debris landed on (top of) the field.

    This is fine, but it changes the interpretation of the sentence. Rather than being a single piece of debris (or small amount of debris) that lands in a field, to be surrounded by it, it's now more naturally a large amount of debris that lands on a field, covering its entire surface.

    In order to explicitly illustrate these interpretations, the sentence could be rephrased in two ways:

    The small amount of debris landed (somewhere) in the field.
    The large amount of debris landed on (top of) the field.

Note that you can also combine the prepositions and nouns:

The debris landed on (top of) the ground (somewhere) in the field.

The first two example sentences in the question make sense, at least so long as the interpretation of place is one with which on would be appropriate.

The third sentence is a little strange, however.

? The plane landed on (top of) New York.

This would be fine if the plane were the size of New York and, in landing, it covered the entire surface of the city. But there is no plane that large.

Therefore, there are more natural sentences (the last using a different preposition):

✔ The plane landed in New York.
✔ The plane landed on a New York building.
✔ The plane landed at the New York airport.

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