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  • Which one is correct?
  1. I go to school by foot.
  2. I go to school on foot.
  • Are there instances when the expression by foot is preferred?

My last question is the following:

  • Why is the singular noun, foot, used?

If a person goes to school by bus/train/car they are using only one means of transport, they are travelling in one car not two. But people use both feet for walking, so why would the following expressions be ungrammatical?

  1. I go to school by feet
  2. I go to school on feet

I read the answers on this question why is it always "on foot" not "on feet"? but they did not convince me.

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This question has an open bounty worth +350 reputation from Mari-Lou A ending in 6 days.

The question is widely applicable to a large audience. A detailed canonical answer is required to address all the concerns.

I have blended a second question, which is closely related, to make the post more challenging for our more experienced users. A canonical answer is required once and for all.

and kindly add a little bit description that why is it used – aliya Mar 25 '11 at 18:51
OALD and Collins have only "on foot". There is no entry for "by foot". – rogermue Jul 22 at 17:00
on foot: Technically when you're moving you're only ever on one foot at a time. Contrast to "being on your feet" which means standing still ready to move. By foot: Don't know why this is singular, however, it seems it's always singular with by.. ie. you travel by road, not by roads, eventhough there are more roads; or by train even when getting from A to B involves 2 trains or more. I would assume the reason is that you're naming a category. – Born2Smile 2 hours ago

7 Answers 7

up vote -1 down vote accepted

"By" in this context normally refers to a mode of transportation whereas "in" or "on" would refer to your position whilst travelling.

We travel by car

This suggests we are using a car to travel.

We travel in a car

This implies we are inside of a car while traveling.

When it comes to using "on foot" or "by foot," either would be correct; however, a quick google search demonstrated that "by foot" is more commonly used (150M hits vs. 85.4M hits)

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Thanks this would really help me – aliya Mar 25 '11 at 19:06
@aliya please accept answer if this is what you needed – snumpy Mar 25 '11 at 20:11
I would bet a lot of money that the majority of instances that contain "by foot" are from English Language websites and forums instructing learners on the difference between "on foot" and "by foot". I don't know what happened since 2011, but today, July 2015, Google reports 29,700,000 results for “on foot”; and 7,340,000 results for "by foot" (with quotation marks). – Mari-Lou A Jul 22 at 13:38
Google Books on the other hand, yields 4,790 results for “by foot” and 42,700 results for “on foot”. The “on foot” wins hands down! – Mari-Lou A Jul 22 at 13:42
@Mari-LouA also, COCA gives 1743 'on foot', 286 'by foot'. Everything has its bias, and I'd be guessing of an explanation of the difference between plain old google and google books/COCA, but I'd consider the latter a 'better' representation of natural usage (because it's a curated corpus?) – Mitch Nov 20 at 13:33

On foot is the usual way to say it.

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However, by is usually used with regards to a means of travel. For example, you would say "I went to school by car". – Yozomiri Mar 25 '11 at 18:55
but why is by foot commonly used? – aliya Mar 25 '11 at 19:07
@aliya: Because you are literally travelling on your feet. The same thing is used for saying, "I traveled on horseback" but not for "I traveled on car." – MrHen Mar 25 '11 at 19:11

I don't feel that "by foot" is the more commonly used. "On foot" is more common.

enter image description here

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The Ngram link was added by Tonepoet, the grammar was fixed by deadrat, and I've now added the Ngram chart. If this could be made into a community-wiki answer that would be so much better. – Mari-Lou A 16 hours ago
@Mari-LouA: Much better! – Chenmunka 16 hours ago

'On Foot' is correct.

We never say by foot. This is specifically mentioned in the popular book on English grammar by Wren and Martin.

Quoting the relevant rule of grammar (you can search it in the book) - Omission of the article.

The article is omitted in certain phrases consisting of a preposition followed by its object; as,

  • at home, in hand, in debt, by day, by night, at daybreak, at sunrise, at noon, at sunset, at night, at anchor, at sight, on demand, at interest, on earth, by land, by water, by river, by train, by steamer, by name, on horseback, on foot, on deck, in jest, at dinner, at ease, under ground, above ground.

However, I very frequently refer the dictionary of my MacBook. And when I searched for this phrase, it says that both 'on foot' and 'by foot' are fine. (Whoever has access to the dictionary in Apple's devices can verify.) So even though 'by foot' is not grammatically correct and while it conveys the idea, if you are aiming for perfection, you should say 'on foot'.

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According to the Oxford Dicionary Online both prepositions are acceptable: on or (by) foot:

  • Walking rather than travelling by car or using other transport.

Ngram suggests that usage of on foot is much more common compared to by foot.

  • According to Etymonline the expression on foot meaning "by walking" is from c. 1300. Its ancient usage has made it idiomatic and popular. As you can see from Ngram "by foot" is a later, grammatically correct, variant.

  • It also says that "In Middle English (foot meant) also "a person" (c. 1200), hence non-foot "nobodby. A possible extension of that meaning might have given rise to the idomatic "on foot" expression in the singular rather than plural.

Why on?

  • We usually use on for movements or actions that involve using body parts. You can rest on your elbows, you can pray on your knees, and you can lie on your back. Walking is no different – the action takes place on foot.

Why by?

  • We use by to describe a tool used for movements or actions. You can travel by plane, by boat or by car, for instance. You can send letters by post, and you can write by hand. It stands to reason, then, that you can travel by foot.

  • When you need to decide on proper preposition use, there are sometimes two possibilities which apparently have the same meaning, though one may be more common and seen as correct. This is particularly true when there is some crossover between the use of the preposition to link nouns. In this case, on can be used to mean the object, surface or means we travel atop, while by can mean the method transport we use. Travelling on something and using something to travel (by) can therefore produce the same meaning, with a different grammatical construction.


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It seems that some people use "by foot" in analogy to "by car" (by + vehicle) without knowing that the correct expression is "on foot".

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Yes, this is a typical learner's mistake. But how does your post answer the question/s though? You can do better than this. We're looking for a canonical answer, not comments. – Mari-Lou A 11 hours ago

In this case, they are both correct. On foot is saying that you get to school on feet, but saying by foot is saying that you get to school by walking.

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