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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 9 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.

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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 23 hours ago
@Mari-LouA: Much better! – Chenmunka 23 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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'On Foot' is correct.

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

Quoting the relevant rules of grammar (you can search it in the book) -

  1. Prepositions with forms of transport. (mentioned in solution's book)
  • We use by + noun when we talk about means of transport. We do not use the or a/an before the noun. Ex: We travelled by train, (not: by the/a train).
  • We do not use by when the reference is to a specific bicycle, car, train, etc. Ex: They came in a taxi.
  • We use on to mean a specific bicycle, bus, train, ship or plane, and in to mean a specific car, taxi, van, lorry or ambulance. Ex: We say on foot (not by foot).
  1. Omission of the article. (mentioned in the book)

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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Your Wren and Martin link says that the article is omitted, i.e. you can use on foot but you can't use on a foot or on the foot. That says nothing about whether you can use by foot. – AndyT 5 hours ago
@AndyT: My point is to show the correct usage. Also I'm saying what you are saying: Nothing's said about by foot. If it was the correct usage, it'd have been mentioned as well. Further, there is a key book for the exercises of Wren and Martin and that specifically mentions that we never use by foot but from the days that key was published, 'by foot' has actually become slightly popular and added to dictionaries (like Apple's dictionary, as I mentioned). If I find the link to the key, I'll add here. – displayName 5 hours ago
@AndyT: Here is one link to the book's solutions. Go to its page 136, or search for "not by foot" in the pdf and you will find the place where the book tells that we don't say "by foot" and say "on foot" only. – displayName 4 hours ago
Then edit that extract into your answer, because the extract you currently have in your answer, which you say is the relevant rule of grammar, doesn't say what you say it does! – AndyT 4 hours ago

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 18 hours ago
@Mari-LouA - Nothing to do with a "typical learner" - as a native speaker I'd happily use either "on foot" or "by foot". – AndyT 5 hours ago
  1. Which one is correct?

    a) I go to school by foot. b) I go to school on foot.

The original question and the additional questions are easily answered quoting the authoritative Oxford dictionaries

    1. a) OED records on foot from XIV century:

(c1325 in G. L. Brook Harley Lyrics (1968) 62 ): Þe is bettere on fote gon þen wycked hors to ryde.

  • b) Oxford Dictionary (also) records by foot as a variant of on foot:

The first time he came was in 1945 when the main means of transport was by foot or rickshaw.

Therefore both forms are correct

  1. 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. The singular form is preferred when not the concrete part[s] of the human body is/ are considered, but the abstract meaning i.e. the organ of sense, or other:

      • eye : The appropriate form is used when referring to the physical organ: one would give one's left/ right eye, to turn a blind eye, up to (one's) eyes in, to shut one's eyes , to be all eye s; but:

    at first eye, in the eye of the law/ logic, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, through/ with the eye(s) of, (sight), or: to do .. in the eye, one in the eye for (humiliating blow); to give an eye to, to catch the eye (attention) to keep an/ one's eye on (watch); to see eye to eye (agree); to give .. the eye (warning glance/ sexual interest); to have an eye to* (object/ view/ regard for); to have/ get one's eye[s] in ( judge distance/ direction);

    • ear :

In sing. and pl. The action or function of perception by the ears; the sense of hearing or listening (OED)

" He sow'd a slander in the common ear","Does my ear deceive me? A shrill whistle coming over the water!", "Clocks should be in beat, not only because they sound pleasant to the ear", but because they are less likely to stop", "For later ventriloquists, the dummy would become a fixture.., funnelling the audience's attention on what they saw in front of them, and knitting together the evidence of eye and ear. to come to somebody's ear, at first ear, (to play) by hear, etc.

  • foot , on its own, can be used in the singular instead of feet

a. Viewed with regard to its function, as the organ of locomotion. In rhetorical and poetical use often (in sing. or pl.) qualified by adjs. denoting the kind of movement (as swift, slow, stealthy, etc.), or employed as the subject of verbs of motion. (OED)

(1667 Milton Paradise Lost) "Tripping ebbe, that stole With soft foot towards the deep", "I was not aware of your presence... Your foot is so light", "Dogs..swift of foot", "Useful as is Nature, to attract the tourist's foot",(a1616 Shakespeare Coriolanus) "Unless by using means I lame the foot Of our design". With reference to walking or running: to pull foot (depart), to take one's foot in one's hand (also, to make a journey). ^Mr. Foot's horse* (one's feet),to catch.. on the wrong foot (to catch unawares), to get off on the right/ wrong foot (to start un/ successfully)

  • on foot refers to a way of locomotion:

to go on foot: to walk as opposed to ‘ride.’ (OED)

and, according to Oxford dictionary

to go on/ by foot: walking rather than travelling by car or using other transport.

This explains why the singular form is used

  1. Are there instances when the expression by foot is preferred?
    1. As we have seen, the phrase originated in XIV century when one could only choose between walking and riding

on foot : a. on one's own feet, walking or running, in opposition to on horseback (OED)

therefore the preposition on was chosen to express both ways; When other means of locomotion where invented the preposition by was appropriately chosen (to go..: by bike/bus/car/train etc)

Walking rather than travelling by car or using other transport. (Oxford Dictionary)

Therefore it was natural to change the preposition (*I won't go by bike but by foot") adding by foot to the long-established on foot. That explains why the latter is more popular and can be used in most contexts:

" I drove up..(fearful of being late, or I should have come on foot". "Motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles in the road and walk the remaining distance on foot". "In the past, hockey fans could walk on foot for miles to watch their favourite stars".

In conclusion, by foot is (to be) preferred when another modern means of transport is mentioned:

"The first time he came was in 1945 when the main means of transport was by foot or rickshaw".


I added the other two questions to make it more "complete" but could you please say which is more the common between "by foot" and "on foot", which is basically why I set up the bounty in the first place. Mary-Lou A.

I thought that was obvious, MaryLou, from my post and, above all, from the original Silva's answer that unmistakably showed which is more common.

by foot is over a hundred times 0.00003 % less common then the original form 0.001 % -0.0005 even though not a recent coinage. I can only add, since it looks like you have no access to OED, that it is not mentioned there at all, and, what is worse, it is not listed, not even as a variant in the updated SOED version. I also said that it is used mainly when another means of transport that requires that preposition is mentioned.

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That's a very good answer but..., I know the question is asking about which is correct, and I deliberately didn't change the original question, I added the other two questions to make it more "complete" but could you please say which is more the common between "by foot" and "on foot", which is basically why I set up the bounty in the first place. The OED doesn't say which form is preferred, it limits itself to list usages, dialects, meanings, and origins of words. – Mari-Lou A 5 hours ago
+1 for going back to 1325! But I don't understand your numbers. What, exactly, is only 3x10^-5 percent? Yes, it refers to "by foot", but what does it mean? And 5x10^-4 is 16 times 3x10^-5. 10^-3 is 33 times 3x10^-5. Or have I gone cross-eyed counting all those zeros? – ab2 1 hour ago
I apologize I hadn't read your answer as thoroughly as it deserved, but the line ...“That explains why the latter is more popular and can be used in most contexts:”.... was not at all obvious as it appeared near the end. It's never a good idea to quote comments, it was my intention to delete mine whether you addressed my request or not. – Mari-Lou A 1 hour ago
And by the way who is Silva? Are you referring to @Siva Priya, that answer was posted in June this year and has been edited three times by three different users since then. Anyway, thank you so much for the high quality contribution. I'm really impressed. – Mari-Lou A 1 hour ago

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