1. He sat under the shade of a tree.

  2. He sat in the shade of a tree.

Why is the first sentence wrong?

This was a question on an exam where I was given a sentence to fill up with appropriate preposition. The question was:

He sat UNDER/IN/INTO/ON the shade of a tree.

The answer to this is IN the shade of a tree but I am not sure why? Because I marked UNDER the shade of a tree.


I suppose it's because the object of the preposition is not 'tree' (in which case you would use 'under'), but 'shade', and 'the shade of the tree' is either the three-dimensional space you can be in and have the shadow of the tree fall on you, or the area on the ground where the shadow falls. In either case, it's something you sit in, rather than under.

  • I think you've solved the puzzle, but it's worth mentioning that many (if not most) English speakers wouldn't consider the first one "wrong" in everyday speech. The second might be more technically correct, but I find the first to be idiomatically acceptable. – J.R. Sep 19 '15 at 11:54

We often think of shadow as lying on the the ground. As he sits within the area that is shaded, he is still clearly visible and simply appears to be sitting in the shade that surrounds him.

To be under something visible, it would have to be above him. He is sitting under the tree whose branches extend above him.

  • RE: to be under it, something would have to be above him... That's not always true, though. For example, we can be under a spell, under the influence, under duress, etc. (I don't mean to nitpick, but I think it's important to state such caveats, lest learners read an answer like this one and come away under the impression that there's nothing more to it. Prepositions are extremely flexible, which is why I'm not sure I'd even agree that the first is even "wrong.") – J.R. Sep 19 '15 at 11:57
  • @J.R. I agree. I edited my answer to limit it to the visible. – Luke Fritz Sep 19 '15 at 13:20

Because you sit under the branch of the tree, but the shade isn't over you. It’s around you and on the ground. So you sit in the shadow of the shade.

  • 2
    Something about “the shadow of the shade” seems redundant. – tchrist Sep 18 '15 at 20:13
  • @tchrist - I agree, but not necessarily in the case of trying to explain the O.P.'s question. – J.R. Sep 19 '15 at 11:52

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