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What is the correct usage? I know you sit 'on' a sofa/couch. What about chair?

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Related: When should I use in or on? –  Matt Эллен Jun 28 '12 at 9:54

4 Answers 4

up vote 27 down vote accepted

It depends on the kind of chair. You sit on a dining chair or an office chair, but in an armchair.

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Piggy-backing on Barrie's answer, you could you say that it depends on how relaxed your posture becomes. You sit in furniture where you lounge, and sit on seats where you sit more upright.

So, I'd be more likely to sit on a bench or ottoman, and more likely to recline in a rocker:

Footrest Bench

Rocking Chair Blue Divan

It might also depend on the verb you use, too. Consider that blue divan: depending on how much I wanted to relax, I might either sit on it, recline on it, lounge in it, or lie on it...

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I don't have words to describe how this answer helps a non native speaker in understanding the differences between "in" and "on" in this case. +100 –  user19148 Jun 28 '12 at 11:35
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dig the fainting couch. –  cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jun 28 '12 at 14:21
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I suppose it's like saying if someone is on a bed they're sitting down or lying on the bed but if they are in the bed they are under a blanket. –  Ambo100 Jun 28 '12 at 17:54
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One pet peeve: lay is transitive; lie is intransitive - you can lay a comforter on a couch; you can lay yourself on the couch; but you lie on it. People get this confused because lay is also the simple past of lie; "I lie dying" (now), but "As I lay dying" (in the past). –  MT_Head Jun 29 '12 at 7:34
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@MT_Head: Nice catch. (Note that those last three words weren't part of my original answer; they were edited in.) Now for my pet peeve :^) it might have been better to just fix it with an edit, as opposed to leaving a comment. –  J.R. Jun 29 '12 at 9:31

Personally, I'd say that you sit in a driving seat, but on an armchair. The reason being that you're surrounded by a cage/frame or other structure as part of the seat. So you're in an aeroplane seat, or in a train seat (as the seats are fixed or designed specifically for that environment) but on a dining chair or on a sofa as they're more "generic" ?

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If it's a flat chair you sit on it. If it's something that covers you from almost three sides you sit in it.

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And yet, as the OP says, we sit ON a sofa. Odd, eh? –  Barrie England Jun 28 '12 at 10:11
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@Barrie: maybe that's because the three sides are "stretched" apart far enough that one person is not really "in" it? Using that logic, I'd sit on a loveseat, but a couple might sit in the loveseat. (Of course, a question like this is bound to be somewhat idiosyncratic.) –  J.R. Jun 28 '12 at 10:24
    
@J.R. Yeh, could well be. There's more variation in figurative uses: 'in the hot seat', for example. –  Barrie England Jun 28 '12 at 10:28
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@Barrie: or "off his rocker..." –  J.R. Jun 28 '12 at 10:29

protected by RegDwigнt Jun 29 '12 at 9:42

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