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I was wondering if it is correct to use "on" meaning that something is on (inside) something else. For example:

There is a book on the drawer

If it is wrong, it is correct to use "in" instead?

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

No, the preposition "on" indicates that something is on top of something else; this can be either physically or not.

On also indicates "with contact", unlike above that indicates "without contact", see for example:

  • The book is on the table. [the book is actually touching the table]
  • He placed the lamp above the table. [the lamp is not touching the table]

To indicate inside, simply use "in":

The book is in the drawer.

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what about on the train, on the bus, on the plane? all cases where "on" means "inside", no? – nohat Sep 12 '11 at 19:47
Well, I think this answer and also this one are a good start to explain why we have those cases. – Alenanno Sep 12 '11 at 20:11

In this case, I do not believe that "on" and "in" can be used interchangably.

If someone said to me "There is a book on the drawer" I would be confused because drawers are usually inside something else (such as a desk or a dresser) and it's not normally possible to be on top of something like a drawer, unless the drawer is extended. Only if the drawer is extended would it make sense to say " on the drawer" and it would mean (to me) that the book was resting across the rims of the drawer, but not actually inside the drawer.

If someone said "There is a book in the drawer" I would immediately open the drawer to look for the book. There would be no confusion about what the sentence means.

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Is it not possible to use drawer in order to describe the container by extension? – Eldroß Sep 12 '11 at 16:20
@Eldros: I don't think so. A dresser can contain many drawers, some are side-by-side, some are stacked vertically. To say "it is on the drawer" then creates ambiguity: Which drawer? If it is a large desk with many drawers beside each other, which drawer should I look above? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Sep 12 '11 at 16:27
Alright, let's say that was some brainf*$t from me, due in part to the fact I have to juggle between languages. :p – Eldroß Sep 12 '11 at 16:31
This subthread has made me realize how weird a word "drawer" is. Now I can only think of it referring to someone who is drawing a picture. – fluffy Sep 12 '11 at 17:52
@fluffy: or someone who draws water out of a well. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Sep 12 '11 at 18:23

In the case on would mean at the top of the drawer. And yes, in would have the same meaning as inside.

There is a book in the drawer

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