.....that I received in my email or .....that I received on my email

What is the correct preposition in the example above? What is the "spatial" difference between these two prepositions when apply to the example above

I am so confuse with prepositions and I really appreciate all the help that I can get. I am Spanish speaker learning English!!

Thank you to all of you for your help!!

  • The idiomatic preposition which collocates with email is "in". The spatial relations of in and on are quite clear and distinct, once you know them: on is reserved for situations where one thing is on the surface of another, and in is used for when one thing is contained within another.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 0:32
  • 3
    Your email is a container; in is used with containers and contents. The spatial difference is that on refers to things located with respect to two-dimensional spaces (on the rug, on the lawn, on the floor, on the page), while in refers to things located with respect to three-dimensional spaces (in the bag, in the yard, in the room, in the message). The semantic space is merged with en in Spanish; that's easy for English speakers to deal with, but hard going the other way. Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 0:49
  • 1
    Think of on for what you might use por encima de or por arriba for in Spanish, and for less physical senses, sobre, like speaking on a topic. Think of in for what you might use dentro de or por dentro for. That’s just a guideline, and sometimes you simply have to learn what goes with what.
    – tchrist
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 0:53
  • I can not thank you guys enough. Prepositions have been the hardest thing to learn in English. You guys can not imaging how much I struggle
    – Panela
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 1:01
  • 1
    Thank to Carl Smith, Dan Bron, John Lawler for your help
    – Panela
    Commented Nov 24, 2014 at 1:07

3 Answers 3


When I am told that "a" is in "b," the meaning that I apprehend is that "a" is surrounded in numerous directions by parts of "b."

When I am told that "a" is on "b," the meaning that I apprehend is that "a" is touching "b" from above.

  • Senex, could you provide me with a sentence holding an abstract meaning, where the answer that you provide me on Nov. 24 can be implemented or applied?
    – Panela
    Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 1:44

'In' and 'On' have distinct and different meanings ('in' means inside something i.e. surrounded by it whereas 'on' means on top of a thing).

However, these meanings are not always honoured in English - you would read a message IN an email but ON a webpage; you get IN a car or a boat but ON a bus, a plane, a train or a ship.

I can't think of a rule which described the correct usage, I'm afraid, but take heart from the fact that the usage of IN and ON are usually well defined, with only the forms of transport I mentioned above as the major source of confusion. You could get "Get IN..." for all of them an no-one will think badly of you - it'll just sound a little bit strange.


Yes, I agree with the former commenter.

When prepositions become abstract is when they get more difficult.

Such as:

The answer was in my head.

Interpretation: from my thoughts that are inside my brain.

I was on top of my game today.

Interpretation: To be on top is oftn to dominate; thus, it is good to be on top of things.

In trying to think of a more difficult one.

The word was on page 49 in the book.

Interpretation: The emphasis is literally the words on the page.

The word was in the book.

The emphasis is that it was inside the book rather than the page.

Hope these help, as well!

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