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There's not enough seats here. What's the right preposition to use with "lap" in this situation?

You can sit on my lap.

or

You can sit in my lap.

I believe that, similar to "lay your head", it would be on my lap.

He was laying his head on my lap.

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    On is almost certainly the most appropriate. The phrase in [someone's] lap does exist, but it implies that the person is wearing a full skirt or robes so that there is a hollow between their knees. Apr 12 at 8:49
  • There are not enough seats.
    – Lambie
    Nov 29 at 0:47
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In General

According to Google Ngrams, they two phrases are used almost interchangeably, with “in my lap” slightly ahead. As an American English speaker, I wouldn't think twice about either.

Google Ngrams, in my lap, on my lap

In Particular

I didn't think to check this at first, but in your specific case it looks like “sit on my lap” may be preferred. I would still personally accept either.

Google Ngrams, sit in * lap, sit on * lap

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on someone's lap connotes just perching on the lap. in someone's lap means being engulfed by the comfort of a safe space as in the case of a mother and child as in mother's lap. It may have a sexual connotation or deep love in case of lovers or between man and woman or others in relationships. Meanings are made based on what significance a word assumes in context and other related socio-emotional or background information. Compare "we plastered cake on h is face." "Do not get in my face."

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I came across two texts today and want to know your opinion:

  • Sometimes when I was at my neighbor’s house, the cat would just jump up in my lap.
  • So I’m going to get an adult cat, one that will jump onto my lap and start purring. The first sentence is using the preposition "up in" but he second sentence has "onto' after the verb "jump". Is there any difference? Both prepositions are followed by the same noun "lap". Jump up in my lap vs Jump onto my lap - is there any difference? Why are two different prepositions used? They seem to be interchangeable but there should be some explanation. Any ideas? Thank you!
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  • If you have a new question, please ask it by clicking the Ask Question button. Include a link to this question if it helps provide context. - From Review Nov 29 at 7:40
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It is lewd to sit "in someone's lap," so the preposition choice depends on your intent.

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'on' means touching a surface or being supported by a surface. 'in' is used with the name of a container, place, or area to say where someone or something is according to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

If A is in B, it usually means that B contains or has A inside. B is bigger than A. For example, a country (A) in Africa (B).

If A is on B, it usually means that B supports A. B may or may not be bigger than A. For example, a book (A) on my hand (B).

Thus, 'on' is the right word. 'You can sit in my lap.' is very weird. It makes me feel that the lap is bigger than a person and is hollow inside so that the lap can contain a person.

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  • I see the logic you're using, but "in" and "on" are pretty related prepositions. It may depend whether you think of the lap as the surface of the legs, or the hollow between them. But more than that, I think the two phrases are just fixed and preferred by different groups of speakers. Apr 18 at 3:12
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    I think it's a mistake to analyze an idiom phrase word by word as if preposition choice is 100% based on logic. In any case, the canonical lap provides a depression that accommodates and contains the sitter, making in perfectly reasonable. Apr 18 at 4:09

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