I am sometimes confused the usage of prepositions.

I say, "It happened in the bathroom."

Native speakers of English would say, "It happened on the bathroom."

Is one, both, or none correct? What is the actual difference between "on" and "in"???

  • 3
    What dialect are these native speakers you are talking about using? "on the bathroom" certainly doesn't seem normal to me.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:27
  • Presumably these native speakers are very poor, but also very pretentious. They must be poor if they live in places that have no indoor plumbing and are forced to resort to outhouses; and yet pretentious to affectedly refer to their outhouses as bathrooms. And outhouses are, after all, the only type of bathroom that you can really be on. I guess these speakers must also be a bit odd, ’cause who in the blazes ever has things happening on the roof of their outhouse? Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:33
  • Okay, is there some better way of welcoming a new user than by downvoting?
    – leoger
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:54
  • They fell on the bathroom? They freshened up on the bathroom? Do you happen to live on an island called Lilliput? Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:54
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    @leoger, Yuki: I didn't downvote, but I didn't upvote either. Really, questions like this should be asked on English Language Learners. I only answered because I thought the BrE in/on the loo/toilet was interesting, not the actual question as asked (but I'd have been more than happy to upvote and answer more extensively if it had been asked on ELL) Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:19

2 Answers 2


So far as I'm aware, no native speakers would ever say they were on the bathroom.

OP may be getting confused by the fact that BrE speakers can say...

"I'm in the loo" (I'm in the room containing the toilet)
"I'm on the loo" (I'm actually sitting on the toilet)

I don't think there's anything comparable in AmE (except maybe in/on the toilet).

In case anyone thinks it's "odd" that I chose to use I rather than, say, he there, I'll just say that it would normally be considered extremely bad form to say "He's on the loo" (it's always "in" there! ).

  • in AmE, the toilet is never the room that I have ever heard. So "in the toilet" would mean in the bowl, or possibly the water tank behind it.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:43
  • @Oldcat: Yeah, I thought as much. But I find AmE "circumlocutious" references to such facilities very confusing. A few months ago I was astonished to hear for the first time a very basic urinal in a bar being called the bathroom. Apart from the urinal and a single wc in a closet without a door, there was just a tap for rinsing hands. And not even a basin under the tap - water just ran across the floor into the urinal sluice. Bathroom?!!! Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:51
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    The problem is that the "device" keeps sucking up the name of the room and applying it to the device itself. Then we have to rename the room once more. "Toilet" used to refer to the acts in getting up in the morning, then to the room you did it in, then to the device alone. The device itself has no name. And at least it was 'bathroom' and not 'restroom'! That is not where I rest!!
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 0:55
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    @FumbleFingers - Real estate agents here are weird. In the US, "half bath" is one with no bath or shower at all! And note how "cloakroom" is getting sucked into the black hole of euphemism. No cloaks there! The term for the single access (often with no door to the shower area) is a "master bath suite"
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:26
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    @Susan: He was the regular (but usually, uncredited) keyboard player with death metal band Cathedral until they called it a day last year, and I can't say I was ever much into that. But he played some great riffs with Bo Diddley on Bo's The Man! Live On Tour. It might be old hat now, but that's more my kind of music! Here's unflattering pic Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 2:36

Use in the bathroom. If something is enclosed by walls or bound by some sort of border, use in. You are in a country. You are in the house. You are in college (you are inside the period that starts with enrollment and ends with graduation or dropping out).

On usually means positioned above and physically touching something's top part. So if you said on the bathroom, you are outside sitting/standing on the roof above your bathroom.

The usage of the prepositions in, on, and at are very tricky for those learning English, especially when their native language has one preposition to denote something's location - whether on, in, or at. Unfortunately, they will have to memorize which of in, on, or at goes with which object.

The usage of in, on, and at gets even more tricky because they are also used beyond describing something's location. Phrases such as "on the house" for freebees, "in my career", or "at 3 PM" must be memorized.

When speaking about time, it's still tricky. We say "in 10 minutes", "at the strike of 12", and "on Tuesday". I'm not aware of any rules for the choice of preposition in these cases. As far as I'm concerned, we needed to learn each prepositional phrase individually.

  • I think it's in so many minutes/hours/days because the figurative reference is to that span of time viewed as a "distance" along a "timeline". Originally, I think "I'll do it in a week" meant within the span of a timeline stretching forward for one week - but in the nature of such things, everyone opts to do things at the last moment, so nowadays it often means "I'll start (and perhaps finish) doing it a week from now". And it's at [some specific point in time] because that's a location on the timeline, not a stretch of it with separate start and end points. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:04
  • @FumbleFingers - if it were a stretch of time, you would say "I'll do it during that week"
    – Oldcat
    Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:07
  • What about the rules for "on" regarding time? Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:07
  • @Mickael: It's at [some clock time], on [some day], and in [some month/year]. I wouldn't like to say exactly why we move through the prepositions like that, but I'm sure the likes of John Lawler would know. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 1:26
  • @FumbleFingers I don't know what Prof. Lawler will say, but I'm pretty sure it's because we hold a continuous election and those are the current winners in their respective categories. Commented Feb 15, 2014 at 2:13

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