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
- 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
- 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?
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);
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
- Are there instances when the expression by foot is preferred?
- 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.