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A girl tied her hair with a rubber band as shown in the picture.

Is it correct to say "She is the girl with a rubber band on/in her hair"?

Some native speakers says "in", others say "on". I am confused!

Note: there is a similarity between a rubber band and a wristband. A rubber band is around a bunch of hair and a wristband is around a wrist.

We don't say "the wristband is in the wrist"

  • Those are not "rubber bands". They are "hair bands", or sometimes "hair ties" or "ponytail holders". Rubber bands are simple loops of rubber, they wouldn't be good for putting in hair, because they would tangle. – James K Jul 10 at 20:02
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I would typically say it like this:

She is the girl with the rubber band in her hair.

We can say “the”, as we are referring to a specific girl, and therefore a specific rubber band.

And I would say “in”, as to me “on” sort of sounds like the band is resting on top of her hair, as opposed to being integrated as part of her hairstyle.

In addition, following your comments:

You are right in that the band is around the hair, and not within it. I suppose that saying “around her hair” might make sense, only when we say “her hair”, we’re generally speaking of her full head of her and its general style. The band is kind of at the back, so that’s why “around” might sound odd.

With the regards to the ring example, it’s interesting to consider. I suppose if we think about the process of putting a ring on, it’s very much placing it “on” the finger. This isn’t really the case with a rubber hair band. You’d typically pull the hair through, perhaps several times, twisting the hair a bit, it’s much more of a merging type of process, so perhaps that’s why we say “in”. I suppose, also, if you imagine an invisible bubble around her hair/hairstyle, loosely speaking, the band is “in”/inside of that; and we could say this of anything: “Gum in one’s hair”, “the wind in one’s hair”, etc.

Another difference is that a finger is singular, whereas “hair” is a general collective term.

Typing “rubber band” into google, I noticed that the top two autocomplete results were “rubber band hair” and “rubber band in hair”. The top result for “rubber band on” was “rubber band on wrist”, with the word “hair” not appearing at all.

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  • but "the rubber band" is not enclosed by any space. We can see it around a bunch of hair, not actually in the hair. Just like we see a ring around our finger. We don't say "the ring is in the finger" – Tom Jul 10 at 14:21
  • I’ve updated my answer. – Chris Mack Jul 10 at 15:13
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    Language doesn't always follow clear cut rules. Either "in" or "on" could be right in theory, but Chris is right, English speakers use "in" for this. Btw, I would say, "She's the girl with the ponytail." I think most English speakers would focus more on the hairstyle than on the accessory in her hair. – codi6 Jul 10 at 21:20
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The girl in the picture isn't wearing a hairband on her hair. If a small object is touching or resting on a surface, you should be able to lift it up, like lifting a pen off a table. The preposition in is normally used with containers, e.g. “The pen is in the pencil case”, we need to reach inside the container to retrieve the pen.

In the situation described by the OP, we ‘could’ say:

  • The girl whose hair is tied with a rubber band
  • The girl with her hair tied up in (= inside) a hairband.

But native speakers would not waste so many words to identify quickly a person, they would simply say

The girl with the ponytail.

From Cambridge Dictionary

hairband

a small ring of elastic (= material that stretches) used for tying your hair in a ponytail (= hair tied at the back of your head so it hangs down like a horse's tail), etc.:

From Lexico

  • ‘She is wearing blue eye liner and blue eye shadow and blue lip gloss and she has her hair tied up high with a blue hairband and two blue barrettes holding her hair in place.

Now the following example is little ambiguous because a hairband can also be a narrow strip of plastic–think Alice in Wonderland–or a stretchy piece of soft fabric that is worn on the head to keep hair away from the face. In the US, it is also called a headband but from what I can tell, the two terms seem to be interchangeable.

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  • ‘Rolling her eyes, she put a hairband in her hair, and headed out of the bedroom.’

To sum up, just say “The girl with the ponytail”, and no one will misunderstand.

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