Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In the children's rhyme:

Johnny and July sitting in a tree
K I S S I N G
First comes love
Then comes marriage
Then come children in a baby carriage

They are said to be sitting in a tree. Likewise, when a bird is sitting on a branch, we say it's sitting in a tree.

Is it ever correct to say a bird is on a tree?

share|improve this question
    
If the bird were a roc or an elephant bird, and the tree were reasonably small, the bird would most definitely be on the tree, not in it. –  Sven Yargs Mar 1 at 19:17

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Your case is special. If you were to say two people were "sitting on a tree" in this case, it would imply that the tree was on the ground. Sitting "in" a tree means sitting in among the branches, most likely at least partly hidden from view.

share|improve this answer

Decorations, presents, the fairy, and so on are said to be on the tree, but that is, I think, only a Christmas tree.

Fruit grows on trees, not in them, as sometimes does money.

I've never heard on in that connection with birds, though.

share|improve this answer
3  
I want to see the tree that has money growing on it. And, can I get one of my own? :) –  Will Dec 8 '10 at 14:19
    
I'd like to see such a tree, too. But there are plenty of people who seem to think one exists. –  Brian Hooper Dec 8 '10 at 20:08
    
Brian, if enough of us upvote this answer, will you tell us more about these money trees? Specifically, where can I get one, how much does it cost, and can I buy it on credit (using the first year's crop, hopefully! :) –  FumbleFingers Mar 1 at 16:52

I would say in a tree, but others might say on.

Some of these below are "on a tree trunk" or "on a tree branch" but some not.

Here's the link.

bird

share|improve this answer

I would say "in a tree" is more correct. Sylvia Plath wrote "I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree" (The bell jar, 1967).

share|improve this answer

Birds sit in a tree, not on a tree. They may be said to be sitting on a tree if they sat on the leaves at the top of the tree, which is never the case.

share|improve this answer
    
How does this answer differ from any of the existing answers? –  MετάEd Apr 26 '13 at 3:52

protected by Mari-Lou A Mar 1 at 16:04

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.