Why in these sentences is "in" and "on" written?


The child ran down the steps in tears
In my opinion, we need a referendum.
They are happy in their marriage


He was not thinking well on that occasion
We’ll hire him on your recommendation

could it be the other way around in each case?

  • 1
    Welcome to ELL. I'm afraid your question is not quite clear. You cannot exchange in for on in these sentences, as they would mean something different; this is simply how these scenarios are expressed in English. There is no other "rule" that dictates why. – choster Oct 15 '20 at 17:58
  • I'm sure prepositions in your language also work in a similar fashion. – Lambie Oct 15 '20 at 18:15
  • 1
    I think I have correctly interpreted your request but if you dislike the edit, feel free to roll it back to how it was before. – Mari-Lou A Oct 15 '20 at 18:56
  • @choster yes i know there are some idiomatic expressions that are just what they are but i looked up information for common uses and i ran into this dailywritingtips.com/when-to-use-on-and-when-to-use-in i did not understand these "usual uses" so if you could give more examples to each category it will clarify a lot for me. – camilo werner Oct 15 '20 at 19:57
  • @Lambie i dont know if you are being serious but im going to answer anyway first my language has different prepositions with just a very few with fully equivalent meaning to english prepositions and if so then we use it differently like we wouldn't say "im mad at him" iin my language it doesnt only sound weird its grammatically wrong we'd say "im mad with him". so for me the uses of prepositions in enlgish is so tough. – camilo werner Oct 15 '20 at 20:09

Let me start with a little observation. In my own experience in various languages, prepositions are pretty arbitrary. In each language, senses get grouped in one preposition in a way that seems natural to native speakers but not to newcomers. So I cannot imagine a very thorough answer to your question. I think that the best we can hope for is to situate each of these expressions among other expressions that seem comparable to native speakers.

There are lots of English expressions that have to do with a mental or emotional state that involve “in,” not “on.” So a child doing something “in tears” seems kindred to someone doing something in a rage, in a confused state of mind, in a fit of pique, in a malevolent spirit, in blissful ignorance, in the belief that it was legal, in hopes of eventual recognition, or while in a good mood. I guess that a judgment “in my opinion” is also something like this. I don’t know why “in” is used in expressions like these, but I cannot think of any expressions like these, involving “on.” Maybe we think of the mental or emotional state as being like a cloud enveloping a person.

I don’t how to analyze the expression about being happy in their marriage. I wouldn’t say that someone is happy in chocolate; the syntax seems to be that we are happy with or about something, not in something. Maybe the word in here suggests that they are happy while they are within their marriage, i.e. while they are married. I’m not happy with that analysis, but I haven’t got a better one.

“He was not thinking well on that occasion” seems comparable to other expressions about when something occurred: on Wednesday, on Obama’s watch, on Thanksgiving, etc. Perhaps some uses of “on your recommendation” are like this, if the sense is “once you have recommended it.”

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