Would a native speaker say "in the streets" instead of "in a street" when not talking about a specific street?

"I never played in the streets/in a street when I was a child."

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    Depends on context. Please give more. Also, probably depends on the neighborhood.
    – Dan
    Mar 3, 2022 at 19:40
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    I think the more commonly heard sentence goes like: "I never played on the streets as a child." Mar 3, 2022 at 19:48
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    In UK English, 'in the street', doesn't have to be about any particular street. you can talk about types of location generically using 'the'. You can use your mobile phone in the street, in the bus, or in the bath. Mar 3, 2022 at 19:54
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    For AmE, the phrase "in the streets" when applied to living beings, usually means in the place where cars normally go; whereas "on the streets" is vaguer and can refer to the sidewalk as well. When talking about vehicles, "in the street" can also more narrowly apply to the place where cars move, as opposed the place where they are parked, but usage fluctuates. Mar 3, 2022 at 21:20
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    Another UK meaning of 'in the street' is 'homeless', e.g. if I don't pay my rent, I'll end up in the street'. Mar 3, 2022 at 22:44

1 Answer 1


There are almost certainly regional variants involved, but in the street is probably the usage you're looking for, to refer to all streets (as opposed to sidewalks) in the abstract, in "I never played in the street."

But note, changing from singular to plural, or changing the preposition, can create phrases with established meanings: "on the street" can mean homeless. "The streets" can refer to low-income urban environments and their culture.

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