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In the United States, we say that someone lives on a street, whereas I've noticed that British people say in. For instance:

Bubba lives on Washington Street.
Colin lives in Cavendish Avenue.

I believe we both would use at when a number is given. For instance:

Bubba lives at 16 Washington Street.
Colin lives at 7 Cavendish Avenue.

I don't think it matters if it's a road, avenue, street, circle, or lane — as far as I know, in America, we always live on a street. Does it vary in British English, or is it always in? If it varies, what are the rules?

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In the street and in the road are the normal terms in BrEng, but we say ‘The word on the street is that . . .’ –  Barrie England Jan 10 '12 at 15:59
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I remember that when I first heard the song by Madness, I thought "our house, in the middle of our street" was literally in the middle of the street, i.e. where the cars ought to go. I think this is part of why "lives in [street name]" just sounds totally wrong to me. –  Marthaª Jan 10 '12 at 16:00
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No. There is an ocean in the way. –  JeffSahol Jan 10 '12 at 19:27
    
To be fair, I would prefer not to live in or on the street. Shall we say "along"? –  Marcus Adams Jan 10 '12 at 21:39
    
@onomatomaniak Nice job on the reformatting. Thanks. :) –  sarah Jan 11 '12 at 15:37

5 Answers 5

Having lived for many years in both Britain and the USA, I've noticed that Americans often drop the designation that follows the proper name of the street, whereas British people rarely do.

So an American is quite liable to say either

I live on Cavendish

or

I live on Cavendish Street,

whereas a British person is much more likely to say

I live in Cavendish Street

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I actually live in a road called "The Street".
A small town I previously lived in also had a road called "The Street".

"The Street" is a not-uncommon street name in some parts of the UK, particularly in villages, but also in some towns. It arises from the time when that was the only road in the community, and hence it didn't need a distinguishing name.

So, I might say to a local person "I live in The Street".

I certainly would not say "I live on the street", because that may imply that I am homeless and am literally living on the street.

[Thanks to @tchrist for confirming that the expression "living on the street" to refer to a homeless person is not restricted to BrE usage.]

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That isn’t a specifically British expression. It’s universal in English anywhere. –  tchrist Jul 7 '13 at 1:05
    
@tchrist Thanks - I didn't know & didn't want to assume. But I was also distinguishing between "in and on the street" in BrE for reasons apparent from my expanded answer. –  TrevorD Jul 7 '13 at 13:28
    
@TrevorD Interesting case, that. So, a letter addressed to you would have something like 234 The Street on the envelope? I lived om Street Road once. Local lore was that it was originally Straight Road, but the spelling was inexplicably altered over time. This reference courses.wcupa.edu/jones/his480/notes/z-trans.htm says 1683 William Penn laid out Street Road (PA926) in a straight line to connect a number of Quaker communities. –  sarah Jul 14 '13 at 0:38
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@sarah No, no house numbers. Address is '[House name], The Street, [Village name], Postcode (Zipcode)]. I believe our village name is unique worldwide! Our neighbour's house was built about 1650, and has been extended once - in about 1970! The original village church dated from mid-1100s, and after various extensions was replaced in 1890s. Our nearby main road beats yours by c.1500 years! It was originally built by the Romans (who occupied Britain c.43 - 410 AD) and it still follows the same dead straight route. About 1 mile away was the Roman equivalent of a 'Service Station'. –  TrevorD Jul 14 '13 at 2:37
    
@TrevorD That's too cool! If you name the village, I can do an image search. I'm guessing it's near Hastings. (I'm a Foyle's War and Poirot fan, not least because of the fantastic locations used in the filmings.)(Then again, I suppose this is more than enough off topic talk...) –  sarah Jul 14 '13 at 8:13

As commonly happens in this age of global communication/mass media, British usage is shifting more in line with American. Until a couple of decades ago, British usage favoured in the high street by a factor of about four to one...

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...but if that chart is to be believed, it's nearer 50-50 today. Though per comments below (special thanks to @sarah), I wouldn't want to overstate the recent trend implied by the chart. Although the corresponding AmEng usage chart shows a marked preference for "on", it does show a significant number of instances for "in" - almost all of which turn out to be spurious, in that the sources are invariably British, but misclassified. It's also worth noting that "high street" is quite rare in AmEng anyway, which in itself suggests many such instances may be wrongly classified.

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In BrEng, ‘in the high street’ seems to be used to indicate a location (‘The post office is in the high street’) and ‘on the high street’, to indicate something less tangible (‘Business on the high street took a turn for the worse last year’). –  Barrie England Jan 10 '12 at 16:59
    
Which would accord with my suspicion that US usage may be influenced by the fact that on average their streets are physically longer, and more likely to be accessed by vehicle rather than on foot. Thus "on" has a general tendency to be less geographically specific. –  FumbleFingers Jan 10 '12 at 17:24
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As far as I know, Americans don't use the term high street. I suspect that people who use high street are very likely to be British, even if they aren't classified so by Google books or are writing in America. Compare the Google Ngram for in the main street/on the main street, which is the closest I can come to American for high street. –  Peter Shor Jan 10 '12 at 18:30
    
What Peter said. –  Patrick87 Jan 10 '12 at 18:35
    
@Peter Shor: You're right - the "frequency" value in my Ngram shows "high street" is 8 times more common in the UK than US. My substantive point, also shown by your Ngram, is that US usage has increasingly favoured "on" in all contexts over the past century. And that, particularly over the past couple of decades, the UK is following suit. In short, the answer to OP's question "will ever the twain meet?" is that it's already happened/happening. –  FumbleFingers Jan 10 '12 at 18:39

One thing to keep in mind is that for a long time, people lived "in" Cavendish. Note that there may have been a couple roads in Cavendish, none of which had names, but you were speaking of a geographical entity rather than a linear place. Even as recently as 1998, when I lived in Kathmandu, you could be in "Thamel" or Jawalakel (two neighborhoods), but on any one of about 6 streets.

Americans, having lived less long in ancient place areas view roads more as routes rather than locales, hence the differentiation - Americans live on a route between two places, whereas Britons live in a place, that has taken on a road name.

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An interesting suggestion. –  Julian Jan 10 '12 at 16:05
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Americans live in towns, same as the English. They just don't live in roads, because that would wreak havoc with traffic. So, interesting suggestion, but I don't think it holds any water. Unless you have cites to support it? –  Marthaª Jan 10 '12 at 21:10
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Right - and the point is that the evolution of road names has more of a place feel in ancient times / places. The citation of Kathmandu is an example here. Interestingly, as the roads were named, they took the place names, and people would still say "I live in Thamel Street" –  Affable Geek Jan 10 '12 at 21:12
    
+1 Awesome! Never imagined the underlying logic. –  Kris Jan 16 '12 at 7:36
    
Good thought. And of course some people live literally in a cathedral close, for example. –  TimLymington Mar 22 '12 at 12:24

"On" sounds completely American to me. Though like many American expressions it is familiar here, (especially since Freddy Eynsford-Hill was made to sing "On the street where you live" in My Fair Lady). But I think most Brits would normally "in".

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As a Brit I agree. But I think there's a slight 'size/importance' consideration though. For example, the Natural History Museum is on (rather than in) Cromwell Road because it's so big. So maybe Americans live in bigger houses than us Brits :) –  tinyd Jan 10 '12 at 14:32
    
@tinyd: you may be right, but I'm not convinced. The NHM is just as much "in" as "on" Cromwell Road for me. An ngram for "In/on Oxford Street" shows an overwhelming prevalence of "in" over "on" in both US and UK English, but "on" has been increasing: in the US since 1880, to the same level as "in", and in the UK since 1960, reaching half the prevalance of "in". –  Colin Fine Jan 10 '12 at 14:48
    
that's interesting. I suppose purely from a physical point of view you could make a case that a building that takes up an entire block could be thought of more as 'on' whereas a house that's nestled in amongst other houses is more likely to be 'in'. But I'm not convinced of my own reasoning here... –  tinyd Jan 10 '12 at 14:53
    
@tinyd: Personally, I've no real preference for either preposition, but Google Books says 9,900 hits for "in Cromwell Road", as against only 2,240 for "on Cromwell Road". But you may be right about "size matters" - that's 4:1 for a big road, but with the much smaller Chancery Lane it's more like 150:1 in favour of in. –  FumbleFingers Sep 16 '12 at 21:14

protected by RegDwigнt Mar 22 '12 at 10:53

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