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In the children's rhyme:

Johnny and July sitting in a tree
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?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 9 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.

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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.

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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

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.


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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).

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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.

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

Both are correct! But it's according to the pattern of the sentence/s. If we say: (1) "A bird is sitting 'IN' a tree" (It means that the same bird is sitting on a branch, but among other branches of the same tree.) & (2) If the bird uses to sit the tree having only one branch/stem, we can say: "A bird is sitting 'ON' a tree." (NOW YOU MAY USE THESE TWO WITHOUT ANY DOUBT.)

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I am having difficulty in understanding the sentence: "If the bird uses to sit the tree having only one branch/stem" And a stem is not synonymous for branch, maybe you were thinking of a twig, which is something like a tiny branch. –  Mari-Lou A 35 mins ago
Now, I get it: If a tree has only a single branch and a bird is sitting on it, we can say:.... A bit contorted and contrived, don't you think? –  Mari-Lou A 32 mins ago

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