What is the difference between "in the lake" and "on the lake", meaning-wise? It seems that "in" and "on" are different in terms of denoting a watery surface.

But also, could "on the lake" mean something is there around the perimeter of a certain lake?

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    Here is my personal tip: avoid memorizing the use of prepositions as patterns depending on what follows the preposition. The choice of preposition in a specific utterance, as I've observed, is the result of what comes before and after, both competing for the right choice, in the given context. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 13:35
  • @ManishGiri I never meant to attack your answer. I fully agree that your original post was absolutely fine. I strongly disagree with the new, strict, and in my eyes pedantic application of attribution rules as SE has changed them. I picked your post as an example of why those rules (and their strict application!) is harmful. I never meant to attack your style of attribution, I think it is fine!
    – oerkelens
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 7:02

2 Answers 2


"In the lake"- inside the lake, below the surface.

The food of twenty-six species of non-cichlid fishes in the Lake Victoria basin is described.


"On the lake"- on the surface of the lake.

Before you go boating on Lake George, please read the regulations and rules - they are slightly different than other lakes in New York State!

Find all the resources you need to enjoy boating on the lake.


As for your last question:

could "on the lake" mean something is there around the perimeter of a certain lake?

the usage of "on" would fit in certain contexts. As Jim suggests in the comments below, you can have a cottage on the lake where the cottage is not a house boat. But in my opinion, this is fairly debatable. I would rather use "cottage by the lake".

(1)CORBET, P. S. (1961), THE FOOD OF NON-CICHLID FISHES IN THE LAKE VICTORIA BASIN, WITH REMARKS ON THEIR EVOLUTION AND ADAPTATION TO LACUSTRINE CONDITIONS. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 136: 1–101. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-7998.1961.tb06080.x (2)LakeGeorge.com

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    But I can have a cottage on the lake which certainly does not suggest that it's a house boat.
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 1:00
  • You can have a cottage on the lake, but it's also very debatable. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 1:11
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    It's a pretty standard expression where I'm from. This ngram shows "cottage on the lake" has many more occurrences than "cottage at the lake" even though there can be many more instances of cottages simply at the lake, i.e., those that are near the lake but don't have property that includes shoreline, than those that are actually "on the lake" books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – Jim
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 1:28
  • If you mean to say a cottage that is at the perimeter of the lake, then I'm inclined to use by instead of at. Also, for this situation, cottage on the lake seems to be used more frequently than cottage by the lake very recently, as you can see here Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 1:35
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    @MaulikV 1. Food waste is dumped in/into the lake, not on. 2. You certainly can have a resort on the beach. Besides, I don't remember saying anything about a beach, so I don't see where a debate would arise from. Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 6:53

I'm talking about the usage of prepositions in the context of lake/water only.

The preposition on not always mean on the surface of the lake. This said, you can have a house on the lake; you can dump garbage on the lake; and even can spend a beautiful day on the lake! But yes, on refers to the surface also. You have vessel on the waters of oceans, you have boating on the lake.

On the other hand, using in, in most of the cases, means inside it. For instance, ...various aquatic species in the lake. Note that if we want to emphasize the depth, we use under. The cable under water is damaged; The wreckage of the ship is found under the sea.

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    I'd prefer you can dump garbage in the lake if the garbage is such that it generally sinks. If you are only dumping polystyrene then on the lake could work but in the lake is the most common for anything that is not on the surface. Saying that I think even they dumped oil in the lake would be preferred, even though oil floats on top of the water.
    – Frank
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 6:05
  • Maybe, because when you throw, you throw it on the lake and not in! But that's just a thought.
    – Maulik V
    Commented Sep 3, 2014 at 6:17
  • When something sinks, I throw it in the lake. When something floats, I still throw it in the lake, although there might be some room for on.
    – J.R.
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 8:35

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