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This question used the phrase on top of to describe an overpass over another road. When one of the answers suggested that "over" would be more appropriate because there is space between the bridge and the road, the questioner disagreed. But I can not think of any situation where I would use on top of when there is no direct contact between surfaces (Northeast US English).

For example:

"The bird is on top of the building," means the bird is perched on the building itself.

"The bird is over the building," means the bird is in the air over the building.

Can on top of be used when there is no direct contact between the things below and above? Does this vary regionally?

  • The difference is also in that "on top" is the location while "over" can mean direction. – Victor Bazarov Oct 8 '15 at 13:56
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    An interesting photo: Plane Is Flying On Top Of The Building At Las Vegas , Nevada , USA. :-) – Damkerng T. Oct 8 '15 at 14:03
  • Should they change the name to ontopofpass? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 8 '15 at 15:39
  • Some Dictionaries state that on top of something also means on or over something . I think when something is over another thing and near to it, we can use on top of. – Khan Oct 8 '15 at 15:44
  • To this native speaker of American English, "on top of X" almost always means "in direct contact with X" whereas "over X" means "located higher than X". "The cow jumped over the moon", it did not jump on top of the moon. I am "on top of Old Smoky" mountain, not over Old Smoky. – stangdon Nov 7 '15 at 15:52
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"The bird is over the building,"

I would rather say "The bird is above the building" instead of that.

Meanwhile:

On top of talks about position,

Over is direction.

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There are idiomatic phrases used to indicate interaction but not necessarily having physical contact: For example, I'm on top of it, meaning the speaker is indicating involvement in some work assignment; and I'm on top of the world, meaning the speaker is happy/elated about something.

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    More frequently I've heard it without "top of" at all: "I'm on it"... – Victor Bazarov Oct 8 '15 at 13:59
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    And "I'm on top of it" would be completely different from "I'm over it" of course. – Andrew Lott Nov 10 '15 at 23:21
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"on top of" is informal because it includes prepositions. Over is formal and academic. So, they have the same meaning. For example; The bridge is on top of the road, or the bridge is over the road.

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