English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Possible Duplicate:
Is it correct to say “the bird is in the tree” or “on the tree”?

I have always been inclined to use the preposition "on" rather than "in" but I've come across a usage that made me feel a little perplexed.

Now, I should like men to have strong and rooted conceptions, but as for their lunch, let them have it sometimes in the garden, sometimes in bed, sometimes on the roof, sometimes in the top of a tree.

From Selected Essays by G.K Chesterton

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by RegDwigнt Oct 30 '12 at 14:30

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

up vote 5 down vote accepted

If you want to say that something is resting on the upper surface of something else, then the proper idiom is on top of, as you noted.

But that isn't what Chesterton said. Rather, Chesterton said in the top of a tree. That is, he's not suggesting that they take lunch resting on the upper surface of a tree (which would be rather difficult), but rather in the upper portion of a tree.

share|improve this answer
I deduce from your answer that the use of "on" in this context would be wrong. That strikes me as rather curious I thought at least the two prepositions might be interchangeable. Very interesting! – mis-n-salem Oct 30 '12 at 15:46

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