In American English, what is the exact difference between

  • a student/teacher being on or in a course

and what is the difference between

  • a class/exam/subject etc. being on or in a course?

Example sentences:

I am a student in/on the Math course.

Are you one one of the teachers on/in this course?

Are there going to be online classes on/in this course?

I didn't learn a lot on/in this course.

What is going to be taught on/in Ms. Johnson's course?

Note: I want to know about the usage in American English because from what I see in previous topics on this on other forums, there is probably a difference between the usage in AE and BE in terms of on/in a course.

1 Answer 1


In the US, everything is in a course: the students, the teachers, the books, the content.

If something is on a course or simply on course, then it is heading in a specified direction. This is commonly said of ships and aircraft, but many will say it of automobiles or any other moving object.

Metaphorically, on course can mean that you are making the expected progress toward a goal, such as writing a book or building a house.

  • I'm a Brit, but I've lived in the US for over a decade so I feel I have a decent grasp of AE vs BE differences. As a result, I didn't buy this answer at first. However, I did some googling and to my surprise I found that Jeffrey is correct. Even past expressions like "been on/in a course" seem to be pretty much exclusively the "in" form in AE. To say that I have "been in a course" just sounds daft to my BE ears, but I found it, and not the "on" form on several US university sites. Whodathunk!
    – tkp
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 14:19
  • One exception I did find was where the notion of "sitting in" was also involved. I found several instances of "... sit in on a course" and, for obvious reasons, no instances of "sit in in a course"
    – tkp
    Commented Oct 21, 2021 at 14:22
  • @tkp As a native speaker of AmE, I think I would only ever say that I "have been in a course" to indicate something unusual, perhaps that I started a course but didn't finish. Otherwise I would say that I "have taken a course" or just that I "took a course." Commented Sep 9, 2022 at 20:36

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