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Are all sentences below correct?

  • I parked in the parking lot.
  • I parked on the parking lot.
  • I parked at the parking lot.

My understanding is that I can use "to park in" if the parking lot is indoors and "to park at" with any kind of parking lot, but I'm not sure if "to park on" is usual for both indoor and outdoor parking lots.

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When talking about a structure for holding cars, such as a lot, you park in. "I parked in the lot." "I parked in the parking garage."

You can also talk about parking on a surface or on a street/road. "I parked on the concrete". "I parked on 4th Avenue." "Parking on grass is not good for your car."

In this sense, saying you parked "on the lot" is also acceptable (but not as common) because the lot is a surface. You never park on a parking garage or other fixed structure that your goes goes inside of.

You can also park at a location or destination. "I parked at the store." In this case, the store is your destination. This is a more colloquial way of saying "I parked in the store's parking lot."

In the same sense, you could say you parked at a lot or a garage, since they are also locations. "I parked at the lot on 5th Street." sounds natural. The lot on 5th Street is a location that you parked at.

This can get even more complicated: If you parked in a parking garage located on 6th Street, you could say "I parked on 6th Street" and then clarify with "in the parking garage."

In some cases, all of these are interchangeable. If a friend asks, "where did you park?", you could say "At the lot on 5th Ave" OR "On the lot on 5th Ave" OR "In the lot on 5th Ave". Any of these works because in this situation, the lot could be considered either a location or a surface/structure for cars.

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    I disagree that "parking on a parking lot" is really acceptable. It would sound very strange to most people, I think. I think this is because "a parking lot" generally includes not only the asphalt surface but also the open-air space above it, so parking "on" a parking lot implies you're somehow "on top of" all the cars and empty spaces that are in it. – Foogod Dec 18 '19 at 19:39
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    Hmm, maybe that is a regional thing, then.. that still sounds strange to me :) – Foogod Dec 18 '19 at 19:44
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    @EddieKal Again, it may be a regional thing, but in my experience, those are terms generally only applied to car dealerships and similar establishments, and are not generally used to refer to generic parking lots. In any case, given the obvious disagreement between multiple people on this subject, it's probably best for non-native-speakers to steer clear of "on" in favor of the other two (much more well-established) perfectly good options. – Foogod Dec 18 '19 at 19:57
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    @Foogod I think it's better to explain the use cases for each so that the learner can fully understand. – user428517 Dec 18 '19 at 20:04
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    @Foogod, do a Google search for "parked on the lot". – user428517 Dec 18 '19 at 21:27
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I parked in the parking lot.

This is correct whether the parking lot is enclosed in some way or not (it doesn't matter). The use of "in" here generally means "within the borders of". This is also the same sense you would use when saying "I parked in a parking space" as well.

I parked on the parking lot.

This is not common usage for parking lots. It's grammatically correct, but the use of "on" emphasizes the idea of "on top of", and most parking lots don't actually have a "top" (they're open-air spaces with no roofs), so it seems a bit odd to say this. However, it is common to say something like "I parked on the asphalt" or "I parked on the street", because those are flat things you can put a car on top of.

I parked at the parking lot.

This is also fine. This is using "at" in the sense of a location which you went to and then you parked there.

In general:

  • "in" is the most common way to say this, and you can use it really any time you are inside of some area with well-defined boundaries (e.g. "in the parking lot", "in the yard", etc)
  • "at" is also fine, and would not sound particularly strange in most situations.
  • "on" would sound strange to most people.
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    Thanks for the answer! Your argument against using "on parking lots" because "they don't have a top (they're open-air spaces with no roofs" doesn't make sense to me, given that people usually say "to park on the street" and a street is also an open-air space with no roofs and thus doesn't have a top. I think it is better to just accept that the preposition choice is arbitrary here. – Alan Evangelista Dec 18 '19 at 19:55
  • Interesting (to me) side note: while this answer is completely correct for parking lots, aircraft are said to park on the "ramp" or "apron" and never "in" them. (Ramp and apron both refer to a parking area for aircraft at an airport.) – TypeIA Dec 18 '19 at 20:59
  • @TypeIA And cars can also park "on lots". It's just not as common of a construction. – user428517 Dec 18 '19 at 21:21
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I think you use "to park in" both when it’s outdoors and indoors.

I have never heard someone saying "to park at" or "to park on".

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