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I´m trying to describe the location of certain buildings on a map but i dont know which is the correct preposition to use: ON or IN

The hotel is IN the north(ern) part of the town

or

The hotel is ON the north(ern) part of the town

Does it make a difference if i replace town with a city or a country?

The hotel is ON the north(ern) part of London.

The hotel is ON the north(ern) part of England.

or

The hotel is IN the north(ern) part of London.

The hotel is IN the north(ern) part of England.

And what if the map represents a nameless island?? Do I use IN or ON?

Thanks for your answers. Im really struggling to find a concrete answer.

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  • Typical usage would be "the hotel is in north London" but "the hotel is in northern England". Jun 9 at 19:53
  • It varies based on context and usage. In that example, you'd generally say "in," but don't be surprised if and when you hear someone say something like, "The hotel is on the north side of town," because in that context and usage, you'd never say "in," only "on." You're "in" a part of town but "on" a side of town. While the meaning of "part" and "side" is identical in this context and usage, the preposition each requires isn't. Jun 9 at 22:05
  • We use on for streets, rivers, canals, lakes and seas (meaning "on the coast of"), but not for regions, districts, or countries.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 9 at 22:05
  • @BenjaminHarman: hmm. Not sure. If "The Northside" is a recognised region of the town, I'd expect "in the Northside". Otherwise I'd write it as two words - on the North side of town, and treat this as a form of on the side (rather than in the side, which is not usual).
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 9 at 22:08
  • I describe myself as living on the northern edge of my city, because I'm only a couple of streets away from green fields and on the edge is a standard expression - but otherwise it's in for a district. Jun 10 at 7:51
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Usually with countries, cities, districts, and other geopolitical regions and territories, we use "in":

"The hotel is in England","...in London", "...in the Northern part of London", "...in a rough section of town", etc.

This makes sense to me because I picture these kinds of (human-designated) locations as pieces of a 2-dimensional surface (like a map). The usual rule for "in" vs. "on" [in" when the object is surrounded by the location, and "on" when it is touching the location, but not engulfed by it] will then require "in" because the hotel is surrounded by England, London, etc. That is, it is surrounded in a 2-dimensional sense (not necessary that it be embedded in the soil of the 3-dimensional geology underneath England/London,...)

When you are describing something not surrounded by the location but merely touching it, you would use "on":

"The hotel is on the Scottish border","...on the Northern edge of town", "...on the Arctic Circle", "...on the Thames" etc.

Considering more concrete, nature-made, geological features like peninsulas, islands (both named and un-named), continents, lakes, these seem more 3-dimensional to me, and we generally use "on" with them (unless the object in question is actually surrounded/immersed in the location):

"The resort was on Mount Blanc." "The hotel is on the island." "The hotel is on Key West." "The hotel is on Lake Como."

But:

"Since they built the dam, that house is now in the reservoir".

Like anything, I'm sure there must be plenty of exceptions, idioms, and other counterexamples, but I think the general rule for "in" vs. "on" with map features is basically the same general idea we use for other cases of "in"/"on":

In if surrounded by, and "on" if merely touching [tangent but not embedded].

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Certainly "in". This is the standard sense "in a region"

The difference between "North" and "Northern" is subtle and mixed with particular idioms. For example it is nearly "North London", and hardly ever "Northern London". This is because "Northern" (in British English) means "Of the North (of England)" and "North London" is not the London of the North of England.

On the other hand, it is officially "Northern Ireland", or "The North of Ireland". But the Inishowen Peninsula, despite being the most northerly part of Ireland, is not in Northern Ireland (but it is in the North of Ireland... more politics)

Using "North London" implies that this region is in some way culturally different from South London, (or East, West or Central London).

Similarly there are some towns with "North" as part of their name. "North Wooton" is a separate town from "South Wooton" (and not just the Northern part of the town). On the other hand you wouldn't expect "North Kings Lynn" to mean much, since I doubt that there is much cultural difference between the Northern and Southern parts of the town.

A useful expression is "The north of ...", and this is the form I'd prefer.

The hotel is in the north of the town, close to the railway station.

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