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Do you say IN one of the computers or ON one of the computers? Which is right?

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    Your title and the body of your question ask two different questions. Please change either the body or title to same question, and create a second post for the second question.
    – Doc
    Feb 19, 2014 at 18:45
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    Also give us some context. Both choices can be correct (but you probably want as you guys saw earlier).
    – terdon
    Feb 19, 2014 at 18:48
  • Do you say IN one of the computers or ON one of the computers? Which is right? How do i edit the title?
    – user66293
    Feb 19, 2014 at 19:42
  • click on the word "edit" under your question. This is a very confusing question, I was thinking of answering the title.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Feb 19, 2014 at 20:32
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    "There is a defect in one of the computers", but "My program is running on one of the computers." Feb 19, 2014 at 21:18

4 Answers 4

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If you hid something like a toothpick inside a computer itself, you would say "The toothpick is in the computer." because the physical object is inside the computer.

When it comes to data or something like that, you refer to it as "The file is on that computer." This is because there's no object that you can hold or touch; you wouldn't reach INTO the computer and pull the file out, you have to use the computer itself to access the data that will show you the file on the screen of the computer.

As a few examples: Data is stored ON the USB drive, and the USB drive is IN the computer. There are cables IN the computer that allow you to access the file that is ON the computer.

The same thing goes for TV. You would say "That actress is on the TV." but you wouldn't say in it, because she's not really inside your TV, she on the screen.

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    "Data is stored ON the USB drive" Yes, but that commonly used value is cached in memory. Feb 19, 2014 at 23:28
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Typically, when referring to a file or program, you say that it is on the computer.

Which computer did you save that file on?

I saved it on one of the computers on the right side of the lab.

For completeness' sake, 'in' is used if you are referring to a location of an object. For example, there is a hard drive in your computer. There may also be fans, a motherboard, cpu, etc in your computer.

Additionally, if you are referring to a specific location of a file on the computer, you might say:

Report.docx is saved in the 'Reports' folder. The Reports folder is in the 'C:\Users\Public\Public Documents\Work' directory.

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    But if an engineer took the top off, and his dentures fell out, and while he was looking elsewhere for them, someone screwed the top back on, then his false teeth would be 'in one of the computers'.
    – WS2
    Feb 19, 2014 at 20:41
  • @WS2 Thus, "when referring to a file or program" =P But yes, I could have been more specific and explained the situations where 'in' would have been correct.
    – Doc
    Feb 19, 2014 at 23:44
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If I were to use "in" that would connotate a physical location. I am in the house. The cat is in her bed. Being that data stored in a computer does not have a physical representation it seems strange to refer to it in this manner.

Contrast this with a filing cabinet where it makes perfect sense. The bills are in the file. (As another example, you wouldn't you refer to "music in a CD".)

When something doesn't have a physical representation I think you can safely refer to it as "on" the device (now here's where others post many examples where this doesn't hold true).

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  • Not sure I totally agree. Accountants talk about 'provisions made in the accounts', when they are not actually inside anything. 'Accounts' are an abstract conception. 'Books of account' on the other hand are physical and entries are made 'in' them. Unless, that is, they are kept by computer and then the entries are made 'on' the computer, but nonetheless 'in' the (computerised) books.
    – WS2
    Feb 19, 2014 at 21:55
  • And pardon me for being so pernickety but I don't think there is such a word as 'connotate' (at least it is not in Oxford Dictionaries). The word you want, I believe, is 'connote'.
    – WS2
    Feb 19, 2014 at 22:01
  • It was a stretch and trying to apply a general concept to the in/out question. I still believe it mostly applies since, to me, an "account" is a representation of a real world item. Also, 'connotate' is in my dictionary but, yes, it does mean to connote.
    – McArthey
    Feb 19, 2014 at 22:09
  • I think there's some dependence on what kind of device we're talking about; the commonly used value might be cached in memory, or in a page. "On" doesn't sound as natural there. Feb 19, 2014 at 23:30
  • 'Provisions made in the accounts' - perhaps the difference is that both are abstract things, and given that, the provisions are still 'inside' the accounts.
    – peterG
    Feb 20, 2014 at 3:37
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I believe the use of 'on' dates back to much earlier computer days. Files were saved onto floppy discs. Data was saved on hard drives. Gradually, this usage of 'on' became associated with computers in general, not just the components it actually applied to.

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