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The brown bears found on / in/ at Kodiak Island are the largest in the world.

Here's the prepositions that I will always get mixed up.

on It is more likely to emphasize that bear was found on the Island not a land. So, the author might talk about how bear can be found 'on a island' or something about island

at Using 'at' in this context is not suitable because island is big enough to have to use 'in', rather than 'at'. Like in the country, In NY not like at the ticket box.

in It is more likely to emphasize the location, Kodiak, So it is more likely that the author talk about Kodiak itself, rather than how bear can be found on a island.

This is all I can think of, but I'm not sure I'm right. So, could you help me fully understand it?

  • To my wonder, all the answers appear to be indifferent to The brown bears found on .... I think I will stick to either The brown bears are found on ... or The brown bears can be found on ... myself, though. – Damkerng T. Feb 23 '15 at 12:31
  • @DamkerngT., "found on Kodiak island" is a relative clause in the given sentence; it has to be either "found on" or "that are found on", not "are found on". – Hellion Feb 23 '15 at 16:52
  • @Hellion Oh, yes! I didn't read the whole sentence. Thanks for the correction. (I should remove my comment but that would leave Hellion's comment dangling, so I'll keep it there to remind me of my own mistake. :-)) – Damkerng T. Feb 23 '15 at 16:55
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In your example, on is correct.

The brown bears found on Kodiak Island are the largest in the world.

In AmE, at least, in relations to islands, we usually (if not always) say that something is on the island. As if the island were a ship floating on the water.

You could expand the sentence:

The brown bears found on Kodiak Island in Alaska are the largest in the world.

Because the island is part of the state of Alaska (within the borders of the state) we say in.

And, because I can:

The brown bears found at the North American Bear Center on Kodiak Island in Alaska are the [among] largest in the world.

Actually, in this case, since the Center is contained, like a zoo, you could also use in instead of at.

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You must remember that these prepositions have multiple meanings. Some dictionaries will list between one and two dozen meanings for each, and sometimes these meanings will even overlap!

The best way to fully understand these prepositions is to use a good dictionary (such as Collins or Wordnik) to appreciate the flexibility of these words. If you try to get locked into a mindset where you think you know what a preposition means, you're liable to trip yourself. For example:

Using 'at' in this context is not suitable because island is big enough use 'in'

That line of reasoning seems like maybe you're overthinking it. After all, at can be used to designate a place (at the store), a time (at midnight), an event (at the opera), or a rate (at 10 meters per second). And it's flexible enough to use with island, too:

There were huge Dolly Varden and another variety of trout in the bay where we were camped at the island. (Paul L. Jones, 2010)

I might have used on there, but these words are pliable enough that I wouldn't say that at is "wrong."


Your book claims the answer should be "on" probably because that's the more common and idiomatic preposition to use when talking about what's on an island.

Yet it's important to realize such usages can change over time. For example, look at this Ngram:

enter image description here

You can see there was a time when in the island and on the island were both used, but for some reason, in the island fell out of favor about 100 years ago. You'll still find modern hits for "in the island," but many of those are cases where island functions an adjective, such as:

...despite the fact that tourism is an important element in the island economy.

Here's a sentence where I would have used on the island, not in the island:

The road here is the best in the island, though in many places steep and difficult.

however, that was written by David Porter in 1823, and, as I mentioned, preposition usage has changed over time.

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The brown bears found ON Kodiak Island are the largest in the world.
I will flat out that the preposition,On is the best choice.
Life can be simple, let's not make it complicated.

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