Having a bit of a debate about this with some foreign colleagues of mine.

I've always used the phrase 'I'm walking in the road', they think that you should say 'I'm walking on the road'..

I'm not 100% sure why I use the word 'in', but there must be a reason for it!

So... which is right?

  • The life I love is makin' music with my friends, and I can't wait to get in the road again.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 25, 2013 at 11:02
  • 2
    Jokes aside, don't know about pedestrians, but there sure is a cow in the road! (Courtesy of tchrist in chat.)
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 25, 2013 at 11:10
  • 5
    Both are correct, but which is right?! I think we might have more serious problems here...
    – Sayan
    Jan 25, 2013 at 11:46
  • ........Pardon? Jan 25, 2013 at 12:08
  • 1
    If "both are correct", then both are right: That's elementary logic, my dear Watson. It just depends on where you are or what brand of English you speak. I'd say "There's a cow in the middle of the road" but "There's a cow on the road. Maybe the cow on the road is roadcow. Maybe the cow in the middle of the road is trotting around looking for a torero to terrorize.
    – user21497
    Jan 25, 2013 at 13:42

7 Answers 7


Using the preposition in vis-à-vis " the road" normally describes an action that takes place in such a way that the normal progress of the thoroughfare might be blocked, or which calls attention to the act in progress.

Take, for example, the Beatles song "Why don't we do it in the road?" Here it means doing something (i.e., fornicating) right out there in front of everybody in such a way that people will stop and take notice. The Beatles were a British band, so that should put paid to any notion that in means something different in BrE.

To simply walk in the road means to put oneself in some danger from traffic.

He was walking in the road, officer. I didn't see him until it was too late.

Normally, to describe the simple act of using the road for pedestrian traffic alongside vehicular traffic, the prepositions up, down, or along are commonly used. They don't carry the connotation of mortal danger, though that may exist as well.

To walk on the road describes the relationship of one's feet to the road surface.

  • In Yorkshire dialect "in the road" means in the way/blocking something - even if there is no road involved
    – mgb
    Jan 25, 2013 at 15:45
  • @mgb I can vouch for that, and in Yorkshire you would say "Get out of the road" meaning "Get out of my way", regardless of where you were - no actual roads need to be involved.
    – Mynamite
    Jan 26, 2013 at 0:46
  • @Mynamite I remember that usage from when I lived in the good old 'Black Country'. Note to non-brits, 'Black Country ' is explained here. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Country Jul 21, 2015 at 18:55

As per comments, OP's concepts of "right/correct" aren't helpful here. Lots of prepositions are valid, depending on context. Here are some estimates from Google Books for he walked xxxx the road... down:18100 along:15400 up:8020 on:7700 across:5710 into:663 over:437 in:5

I immediately recognise a problem with those figures - as a native speaker, I know perfectly well that on, for example, isn't particularly common for that particular search text. But estimates in GB are skewed according to how often various subsections of the text occur anywhere in the corpus (walked on, on the, on the road, etc.). Here are the values after scrolling through to establish how many actual instances occur...


Obviously across, over are used in the context of getting from one side of the road to the other, and into for stepping off the sidewalk on to the tarmac traffic surface. In the context of using the road to get somewhere by foot, we normally use along, down, up.

I don't think it's worth differentiating between on, in. Almost every actual instance is equivalent with either, and usually would be better replaced by along, down, up.

  • There's also the concept of "on the road" meaning "to be on the move" or "touring" - the Rolling Stones are on the road, ie on tour. However you wouldn't use this with "walking" as in OP's question.
    – Mynamite
    Jan 26, 2013 at 0:52

Without going into either analyses of why we use these particular prepositions or rigorously obtained and analysed statistics showing frequency of usage of given variants, examining a series of Google Ngrams shows fairly conclusively that

  1. Choice of preposition is not prescribed.

  2. Choice of preposition changes over time.

  3. Choice of preposition within similar structures is idiosyncratic.

Look at Ngrams for in the X, on the X

where X =

road, street, lane, avenue, boulevard.

On the motorway and on the slip road are probably mandatory.

Admittedly, the Ngrams provide only ballpark figures: on the Crescent would only be used for a property or disturbance, say, referring not just to the road surface.


We would normally say on. "In the road" suggests that you are talking about something in the material of the paving itself ("there are layers of concrete and tarmac in the road").

You might say "walking in the middle of the road" because the in places you between the two sides of the road, while on places you on top of the surface.

  • 2
    "Percy stepped off the pavement to walk in the road and got run over." In is fine here.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jan 25, 2013 at 11:13
  • 1
    Agreed, the in again places the pedestrian between the two sides.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 25, 2013 at 11:34
  • 1
    "In the road" would only be recognised as having the 1st connotation Jon suggests if there was a prior clue (eg you were discussing construction techniques). More usually, the connotation of being 'in the way' or at least 'not where it "should" be' is more likely to be picked up - there's a settee (or, as tchrist/Reg say, cow) in the road. In would be more common here if one were walking there, avoiding still-icy pavements. On would be far more likely if one were discussing driving (keep on the road!) and mandatory if using a transparent metaphor (we've been on the road for six days now). Jan 25, 2013 at 11:41
  • -1: nobody would normally infer "in the road" to imply the road making materials.
    – horatio
    Jan 25, 2013 at 16:08
  • @horatio I don't mean that they'd infer that, I mean they'd hear something other than what was usual, assume it meant "on the road" and it'd sound wrong. Andrew and Edwin do both give good examples of where it would indeed be used, though.
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 27, 2013 at 9:48

If you are viewing the road as a surface, as a physical material, then things are "on" it: there is snow on the road, oil on the road, a dead animal on the road.

If you are discussing the road as means of transportation, then things are "in" it: there is a bump in the road, a tree in the road, a dead animal in the road.

A dead animal on the road might actually be lying on the very edge of the road; a dead animal in the road is in your way.

A pedestrian is on the road from his own point of view: he is literally walking upon the road.

A pedestrian is in the road from a motorist's point of view: he is blocking the road.

Utterly separate from all of the this, the expression "on the road" means "in motion" or "on a trip" as in the exhortation "Let's get this show on the road" or the title of Jack Keroac's famous memoirs On The Road.


I don't know what country you are in, as you have not specified it in your profile, and have not carried out a person by person check on the commentators. But, I suspect that "... in the road ..." is Yankee Speak and that the Queen's English would not allow of it. My suspicion may be unfounded :-)

I'm a New Zealander - we speak the Queen's English here, albeit in a somewhat mangled form. I do not think I have heard "in" used in that manner this century and probably not for half way back though last century either.

  • 4
    I suspect that what you speak in New Zealand is New Zealand English. Jan 25, 2013 at 13:17
  • I'm from England; I did however wonder if there was a possibility of the differing use being a regional thing - even within one country.
    – ripzay
    Jan 25, 2013 at 14:27
  • @BarrieEngland - We SPEAK NZ English (ie pronunciation) but largely write British English - spelling and most usage. Much closer to Queen's English than President's English. All will be pleased to know that linguistic pronunciation drift is such that in time Queen's English will be spoken as we speak it now. I'm told. We are just the forerunners. || Would downvoter please explain reason. I really really do not mind downvotes on this sort of thing as long as they are logical - and I'd like to know why for future guidance. Jan 25, 2013 at 22:52
  • 'Queen's English' is an imprecise term, and not one used by serious linguists. Not my downvote, by the way. Downvoters seldom explain themselves. Jan 26, 2013 at 7:58
  • @BarrieEngland - QE is a good enough term for we non-serious linguists. Few would not know what it meant with some precision in this context. We know what we speak and what those US fellows speak, and it's not the same (in part), whereas NZ English is very very largely indistinguishable from English English. We have some additional words due to different culturual inputs but no spellings are NZ specific or other than you'd find in England AFAIK. (I say England to be safe - I'll not guarantee our conformance with Welsh or scottish or Irish (either part) local practice). Jan 26, 2013 at 8:47

It is "On the road" not "In the road".


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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