• Which one is correct?
  1. I go to school by foot.
  2. I go to school on foot.
  • Are there instances when the expression by foot is preferred?

My last question is the following:

  • Why is the singular noun, foot, used?

If a person goes to school by bus/train/car they are using only one means of transport, they are travelling in one car not two. But people use both feet for walking, so why would the following expressions be ungrammatical?

  1. I go to school by feet
  2. I go to school on feet

I read the answers on this question why is it always "on foot" not "on feet"? but they did not convince me.

  • 1
    and kindly add a little bit description that why is it used
    – aliya
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 18:51
  • OALD and Collins have only "on foot". There is no entry for "by foot".
    – rogermue
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 17:00
  • 5
    on foot: Technically when you're moving you're only ever on one foot at a time. Contrast to "being on your feet" which means standing still ready to move. By foot: Don't know why this is singular, however, it seems it's always singular with by.. ie. you travel by road, not by roads, eventhough there are more roads; or by train even when getting from A to B involves 2 trains or more. I would assume the reason is that you're naming a category.
    – Born2Smile
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 11:09
  • 1
    the only time I've seen "by foot" in general usage was when giving directions: then on for five miles by foot Commented Nov 29, 2015 at 23:50
  • 1
    @Mari-Lou - Your bounty has given this question some recent attention, which is good. However, I don't think any of the answers posted so far address the issues as clearly and as plainly as this blog post.
    – J.R.
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 17:03

10 Answers 10


"By" in this context normally refers to a mode of transportation whereas "in" or "on" would refer to your position whilst travelling.

We travel by car

This suggests we are using a car to travel.

We travel in a car

This implies we are inside of a car while traveling.


Adding quotes around the phrase in google makes a big difference in results. The following reflects a more accurate search:

When it comes to using "on foot" or "by foot," either would be correct; however, a quick google search demonstrated that "on foot" is more commonly used (34M hits vs. 7.9M hits).

  • 3
    I would bet a lot of money that the majority of instances that contain "by foot" are from English Language websites and forums instructing learners on the difference between "on foot" and "by foot". I don't know what happened since 2011, but today, July 2015, Google reports 29,700,000 results for “on foot”; and 7,340,000 results for "by foot" (with quotation marks).
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 13:38
  • 3
    Google Books on the other hand, yields 4,790 results for “by foot” and 42,700 results for “on foot”. The “on foot” wins hands down!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 22, 2015 at 13:42
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA also, COCA gives 1743 'on foot', 286 'by foot'. Everything has its bias, and I'd be guessing of an explanation of the difference between plain old google and google books/COCA, but I'd consider the latter a 'better' representation of natural usage (because it's a curated corpus?)
    – Mitch
    Commented Nov 20, 2015 at 13:33
  • Note that similarly we have things "on hand" and make things "by hand"—not "on hands" and "by hands."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 17:44
  • Answer has been modified to reflect a google search with quotes.
    – snumpy
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 12:21

1. Which one is correct?

a) I go to school by foot. b) I go to school on foot.

The original question and the additional questions are easily answered quoting the authoritative Oxford Dictionaries

a) OED records on foot from XIV century:

(c1325 in G. L. Brook Harley Lyrics (1968) 62 ): Þe is bettere on fote gon þen wycked hors to ryde.

b) Oxford Dictionaries (also) record by foot as a variant of on foot:

The first time he came was in 1945 when the main means of transport was by foot or rickshaw.

Therefore both forms are correct

2. Why is the singular noun, foot, used?

If a person goes to school by bus/train/car they are using only one means of transport, they are travelling in one car not two. But people use both feet for walking, so why would the following expressions be ungrammatical?

The singular form is preferred when not the concrete part[s] of the human body is/are considered, but the abstract meaning, i.e. the organ of sense, or any other figurative sense:

  • eye: The appropriate form is used when referring to the physical organ: one would give one's left/ right eye, to turn a blind eye, up to (one's) eyes in, to shut one's eyes , to be all eyes; but:
    at first eye, in the eye of the law/ logic, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, through/ with the eye(s) of, (sight), or: to do .. in the eye, one in the eye for (humiliating blow); to give an eye to, to catch the eye (attention) to keep an/ one's eye on (watch); to see eye to eye (agree); to give .. the eye (warning glance/ sexual interest); to have an eye to (object/ view/ regard for); to have/ get one's eye[s] in (judge distance/ direction);

In sing. and pl. The action or function of perception by the ears; the sense of hearing or listening (OED)

  • ear: “He sow'd a slander in the common ear”, “Does my ear deceive me? A shrill whistle coming over the water!”, “Clocks should be in beat, not only because they sound pleasant to the ear, but because they are less likely to stop”, “For later ventriloquists, the dummy would become a fixture.., funnelling the audience's attention on what they saw in front of them, and knitting together the evidence of eye and ear”. to come to somebody's ear, at first ear, (to play) by ear, etc.

foot, on its own, can be used in the singular instead of feet

a. Viewed with regard to its function, as the organ of locomotion. In rhetorical and poetical use often (in sing. or pl.) qualified by adjs. denoting the kind of movement (as swift, slow, stealthy, etc.), or employed as the subject of verbs of motion. (OED)

(1667 Milton Paradise Lost) "Tripping ebbe, that stole With soft foot towards the deep", "I was not aware of your presence... Your foot is so light", "Dogs..swift of foot", "Useful as is Nature, to attract the tourist's foot", (a1616 Shakespeare Coriolanus) "Unless by using means I lame the foot Of our design". With reference to walking or running: to pull foot (depart), to take one's foot in one's hand (also, to make a journey). Mr. Foot's horse (one's feet),to catch.. on the wrong foot (to catch unaware), to get off on the wrong/right foot (to start un/successfully)

  • on foot refers to a way of locomotion:

to go on foot: to walk as opposed to ‘ride.’ (OED)

and, according to Oxford Dictionaries

to go on/by foot: walking rather than travelling by car or using other transport.

This explains why the singular form is used

3. Are there instances when the expression by foot is preferred?

As we have seen, the phrase originated in XIV century when one could only choose between walking and riding

on foot : a. on one's own feet, walking or running, in opposition to on horseback (OED)

therefore the preposition on was chosen to express both ways. When other means of locomotion where invented the preposition by was appropriately chosen (to go… by bike/bus/car/train, etc.)

Walking rather than travelling by car or using other transport. (Oxford Dictionaries)

Therefore it was natural to change the preposition ("I won't go by bike/ car/ bus ....but by foot") adding by foot to the long-established on foot. That explains why the latter is more popular and can be used in most contexts:

" I drove up..(fearful of being late, or I should have come on foot". "Motorists were forced to abandon their vehicles in the road and walk the remaining distance on foot". "In the past, hockey fans could walk on foot for miles to watch their favourite stars".

In conclusion, by foot is (to be) preferred when another modern means of transport is mentioned:

"The first time he came was in 1945 when the main means of transport was by foot or rickshaw". (quoted above: Oxford Dictionaries)


I added the other two questions to make it more "complete" but could you please say which is more the common between "by foot" and "on foot", which is basically why I set up the bounty in the first place. Mary-Lou A.

I thought that was obvious, from my post and, above all, from Siva's answer that unmistakably showed which is more common:

  • by foot (0.00003[5] %) is over a hundred times less common then the original form (0.001-0.00031 %)1 even though not a recent coinage. Probably, it is an educated guess to imagine that it gained currency with the advent of railway, when people started traveling by train: the phrase has in fact a first (modest) peak (0.000015 %) around 1764, and at that time also by horse became more popular

I can only add, that it is not mentioned in the OED at all, and, what is worse, it is not listed, not even as a variant, in the updated SOED version. I also said that it is used mainly when another means of transport that requires that preposition is mentioned or understood.

1 Ngram percentages respectively in 1900 and in 1999

The preposition by was used with different means of transport, long before manual or motor vehicles (bikes, cars, trains, and buses) came into existence, e.g. by ship, "to travel by land, or by sea". – Mari-Lou A

I'll make a last attempt to clarify it all. The structure we are discussing is "to go (travel) on/by foot" vs. other means of transport: "to travel by car/train etc...", since we have ascertained that "on foot" does not refer to a part of the body but (idiomatically) to a means of transport.

  • "I am on a train... " has nothing to do with the issue, its alleged meaning
  • "I am travelling on a train" has nothing to do with "I travel by train", and roughly would correspond to "I am travelling on a foot"
  • "He is on () horseback / on the train / on a ship" is utter confusion: the first noun has no article (idiomatic use), the second a definite and the third an indefinite article (literal use). The copula is does not link to a means of transport. A horse is a means of transport. Considering on (foot/horseback) in its literal sense gives the weird conclusion that one is leaning on the horseback or on one's own foot (and not on the land, both one's and the horse's foot/back lean on the land)
  • "to travel by land/ sea", land and sea are not means of transport, (same as Sven's water), when one travels on horseback/foot they are travelling by land, That is a separate idiom that has nothing to to do with our issue.

I am not convinced that "by" was employed when later means of transport became available. I think it is much older than you suggested

I only reported facts and not personal convictions, did not suggest anything. If one has evidence that by foot is older than the XIX century, they should put it forward. What I noticed is actually that also other ancient means of transport like by horse and by ship become popular roughly at the same time, that is after the advent of railway. It is really surprising that very old means of transport like ‘horse’ and ‘ship’ were associated to the preposition by only after people started travelling by train (and actually by foot is slightly older than by ship and by horse). The incredulity might have been disbanded by an Ngram search.

This odd circumstance can be fully be explained by my guess (which was outside the scope the answer), if anyone can find a better explanation it will be welcome.

  • 3
    +1 for going back to 1325! But I don't understand your numbers. What, exactly, is only 3x10^-5 percent? Yes, it refers to "by foot", but what does it mean? And 5x10^-4 is 16 times 3x10^-5. 10^-3 is 33 times 3x10^-5. Or have I gone cross-eyed counting all those zeros?
    – ab2
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 19:12
  • 2
    Your explanation regarding the use of the singular expression (foot, ear, eye, hand, etc) for body parts was well done. I also liked your argument that the increased likelihood that a person would by travelling 'by' (car, train, aeroplane, etc) in modern times has possibly increased - by transference - the use of the expression 'by foot' in recent times. I would counsel care though with Ngrams, many of the instances of 'by horse' you mentioned reference text such as 'by h. races', 'by h.-hoeing' etc. Adding an extra word can sometimes fine tune your query, as in: tinyurl.com/hved7ul
    – John Mack
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 22:31
  • 4
    @Mari-LouA, "I am on the train" just means you are in the train, as to grammar, the rest is ony a logical conclusion. You are comparing "I go (to London) on foot/horseback" and "I am on train bound to London", that's far-fetched
    – user119278
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 14:08
  • Definition of 'pedality' in the OED (Sept. 2005 update; phrase not used in the previous version of the entry): "the ability to travel by foot".
    – JEL
    Commented Dec 1, 2015 at 7:28
  • Just a few instance of early usages: on foot : on one's own feet, walking or running, in opposition to on horseback, etc. Also, of foot, upon foot.: 1300 Cursor M. 6267 (Cott.) He folud wit ost on hors and fote. 1310 in Wright Lyric P. 90 The is bettere on fote gon, then wycked hors to ryde. 1314 Guy Warw. (A.) 2397 When Gii seye the douke of fot.
    – user66974
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 23:31

Which one is correct?

Taking a snapshot-sample approach to this question, I ran a Google Books search for four phrases that incorporate "by foot" or "on foot": "travel on foot" (blue line, "travel by foot" (red line), "traveling on foot" (green line, and "traveling by foot" (yellow line). Here is the resulting Ngram chart for the years 1840–2005:

As this chart indicates, all four expressions have been in use in published writing for many years, but the "on foot" wordings are at least somewhat more common than the "by foot" alternatives. The chart also shows that the frequency of occurrence of "travel on foot" in print has declined gradually over the past 150 years, while the frequency of travel by foot" has increased slightly; the difference in frequency used to be much greater than it is today.

Historically, "travel/traveling on foot" goes back much farther than "travel/traveling by foot." The earliest match for "travel on foot" in a Google Books search is from Alexander Grosse, Sweet and Soule-Perswading Inducements Leading Unto Christ (1632):

Euery man may see in these times mens naturall lusts and affections which should like servants be kept under and suppressed, humbled, brought low, and made to walke on foot ; yet these are set on horsebacke, exalted, honoured, preferred, and Christ the Prince of peace, and all his ordinances, statutes, and testimonies, which should reigne and rule like Princes in the soule of man, these are made like servants to travell on foot ; these are of no esteeme and price With men ; these have no rule and sway in the hearts of men : ...

The earliest Google Books instance of "travelling on foot" is from only a few years later. From Samuel Purchas, A Theatre of Politicall Flying-Insects (1657):

At such times [as during a plague of locusts] the people depart from their own Country, so that wee have found all the wayes full of men and women, travelling on foot with their children in their arms, and upon their heads, going into other Countries, where they might finde food, which was a pitiful thing to behold.

In contrast, the first Google Books match for "travel by foot" is from more than 200 years after the first match for "travell on foot." From Missionary Herald (April 1836):

We met with very good and attentive congregations at nearly all the places [in the vicinity of Byamvillee, Ceylon]. We were obliged to travel by foot through roads which are impervious to every other mode of travelling.

And the earliest Google Books instance of "travelling by foot" is from "Railways in India," in The Artizan (June 1847):

The average cost of travelling is, to 1st class passengers, 8d. per mile each ; to 2nd class, 1.12d. per mile each ; and to 3rd class, 0.6d. per mile each, including food if proceeding by water, and 0.533d. per mile each, including time and food if travelling by foot.

Nevertheless, both forms have been in attested use for more than 175 years. To judge from the Google Books search results, "travel/traveling on foot" is considerably older and continues to be more common than "travel/traveling by foot"; but both are currently in use and—by any reasonable standard of appraisal—are "correct."

It occurred to me that the original preference for "on foot" might have influenced by the then-common alternative transportation mode "on horseback," given that the phrase "by horseback" sounds extremely odd. However, both terms are so old that both seem to have been in place by the time the earliest Google Books volumes were published—and as a result, there is no clear basis for supposing that adoption of one of those wordings influenced adoption of the other.

Are there instances when the expression 'by foot' is preferred?

Looking through the matches for "travel/travelling by foot," I found a few examples where "by foot" sounds better (to me) than it usually does. The 1847 example of "traveling by foot" cited above is one such instance—and the reason it sounds better than usual, I think, is that it appears in parallel with the earlier phrase "proceeding by water." An even stronger example appears in Christopher Froelich, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Russian (2004):

Russian verbs of motion sometimes cause problems for English speakers for two reasons. First, motion verbs come in pairs of definite and indefinite motion. ... Second, Russian does not have a verb that means "to go." Instead, verbs of motion in Russian indicate the method of travel—by foot, by vehicle, by plane, by boat.

And stronger still is this instance from The Code of Federal Regulations of the United States of America (1983):

(g) Winter travel. The Superintendent may, by posting or notice, establish on the basis of weather and snow conditions, a winter travel season. During this season, registration with the Superintendent is required prior to any winter travel by foot, skis, snowshoes, or sleds, away from plowed roads.

It is easy to see in these last two examples how the other travel options (all explicitly or implicitly preceded by by) influenced the author's choice of "by foot" over "on foot." This preference is, however, a highly subjective one. Even more so, I suppose, is this one—from Systems Analysis in Forest Resources: Proceedings of the 2003 Symposium (2005) [combined snippets]—where again I can understand the author's inclination to go with "travel by foot":

This methodology required intensive attribution of equipment and travel routes, and in the context of forest road engineering, it was able to ignore the problem of off-road travel by foot.

Here "off-road travel" is one idea and "by foot" follows at a slight remove; perhaps the author wanted to avoid even the faintest shadow of the misreading "ignore the problem ... on foot"; certainly no such misreading is possible with the wording "ignore the problem ... by foot."

But even in these rather unusual instances where "by foot" is arguably a good choice, it doesn't follow that using "on foot" would be an error. The same goes in reverse for the usual case where "on foot" may seem more natural and idiomatic. Ultimately the choice between "travel by foot" and "travel on foot" is a matter of personal preference—one in which more people writing (and speaking, presumably) favor the latter more of the time; but I couldn't find any special travel-related usage of "by foot" in which replacing "by foot" with "on foot" would be idiomatically dubious.

Why is the singular noun, 'foot', used?

The idiom "on foot" goes back very far in English. Marlowe includes this exchange in Doctor Faustus (1592):

Mephistopheles. What, will you go on horse-back or on foot?

Faustus. Nay, till I'm past this fair and pleasant green, I'll walk on foot.

Even earlier is this instance of "on foot" (in the sense of "in the process of occurring" or, in other words, "afoot") from a letter by Secretary William Cecil, dated October 31, 1559, reprinted in The Works of John Knox, volume 3 (1853):

On the last of that month [October 1559], Cecil writes from Court, and says, "If Balnaves shuld come, it wold prove dangerous; and therefore it is thought better that he be forborne until the matter be better on foot."

I couldn't find any explanation in a reference work of why English prefers "on foot" to "on feet." But whatever the reason may have been, the decision on the preferred form happened long ago. (Merriam-Webster reports that afoot in the sense of "on foot" dates to the thirteenth century; and as there is no plural option afeet in this case, the early appearance of afoot suggests that the singular was already in place for "on foot" as well.)

  • 2
    Just to clarify: I included the quotation from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Russian not to endorse its assertions about the Russian language (about which I know nothing), but to show how the choice in English between "on foot" and "by foot" was influenced by the fact that the "foot" option appeared as part of a string of other modes of transport introduced with the preposition "by"—in this case, "by foot, by vehicle, by plane, by boat." The parallelism of the prepositional phrases in this string in English is the strongest reason to choose "by foot" here over "on foot."
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Dec 3, 2015 at 7:34

On foot is the usual way to say it.

  • 1
    However, by is usually used with regards to a means of travel. For example, you would say "I went to school by car".
    – Yozomiri
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 18:55
  • 1
    but why is by foot commonly used?
    – aliya
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 19:07
  • 2
    @aliya: Because you are literally travelling on your feet. The same thing is used for saying, "I traveled on horseback" but not for "I traveled on car."
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 25, 2011 at 19:11
  • 1
    @aliya Why? It's an idiom, which is shorthand for 'it's a pattern that people just use' Language isn't always consistent, it's not logic.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 14:10

I don't feel that "by foot" is the more commonly used. "On foot" is more common.

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  • 2
    The Ngram link was added by Tonepoet, the grammar was fixed by deadrat, and I've now added the Ngram chart. If this could be made into a community-wiki answer that would be so much better.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Nov 26, 2015 at 21:12
  • 2
    @Mari-LouA It is also interesting to note that a considerable proportion of Google's Ngram matches for 'by foot' are actually referencing a once more common expression, 'foot by foot'. This Ngram makes this clearer: tinyurl.com/nay9sq4 (using TinyURL to compress the size of the address). Curiously we'd now probably say 'inch by inch'. This Ngram does however support GreenRay's contention that 'by foot' (meaning 'to travel by..') is increasing in very recent times, possibly influenced by usages involving vehicles.
    – John Mack
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 22:41
  • @Mari-LouA Prudence and discretion are my new watchwords. It is an excellent question and well worth the bounty. GreenRay has a couple of good points that I could only re-work perhaps for a very small gain in clarity, and add perhaps an invitation to consider the situation with other forms of transport equally popular in the days when the 'only' options were 'foot' or 'horse-back', such as 'by cart or palanquin or ship, or boat. It is interesting to compare 'on horse(-back)' with bicycles, which, like horses, support rather than 'contain' the rider'. See tinyurl.com/hved7ul
    – John Mack
    Commented Nov 28, 2015 at 23:00
  • 3
    @JohnMack, ngrams are not reliable , fancy on foot having many occurrences in American books a century before the arrival of the Pilgrim Fathers?
    – user119278
    Commented Nov 30, 2015 at 14:14

'On Foot' is correct.

We never say by foot. This is specifically mentioned in the popular book on English grammar by Wren and Martin and it's solution's book.

Quoting the relevant rules of grammar (you can search it in the book) -

  1. Prepositions with forms of transport. (mentioned in solution's book)
  • We use by + noun when we talk about means of transport. We do not use the or a/an before the noun. Ex: We travelled by train, (not: by the/a train).
  • We do not use by when the reference is to a specific bicycle, car, train, etc. Ex: They came in a taxi.
  • We use on to mean a specific bicycle, bus, train, ship or plane, and in to mean a specific car, taxi, van, lorry or ambulance. Ex: We say on foot (not by foot).
  1. Omission of the article. (mentioned in the book)

The article is omitted in certain phrases consisting of a preposition followed by its object; as,

  • at home, in hand, in debt, by day, by night, at daybreak, at sunrise, at noon, at sunset, at night, at anchor, at sight, on demand, at interest, on earth, by land, by water, by river, by train, by steamer, by name, on horseback, on foot, on deck, in jest, at dinner, at ease, under ground, above ground.

However, I very frequently refer the dictionary of my MacBook. And when I searched for this phrase, it says that both 'on foot' and 'by foot' are fine. (Whoever has access to the dictionary in Apple's devices can verify.) So even though 'by foot' is not grammatically correct and while it conveys the idea, if you are aiming for perfection, you should say 'on foot'.

  • Your Wren and Martin link says that the article is omitted, i.e. you can use on foot but you can't use on a foot or on the foot. That says nothing about whether you can use by foot.
    – AndyT
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 15:55
  • @AndyT: My point is to show the correct usage. Also I'm saying what you are saying: Nothing's said about by foot. If it was the correct usage, it'd have been mentioned as well. Further, there is a key book for the exercises of Wren and Martin and that specifically mentions that we never use by foot but from the days that key was published, 'by foot' has actually become slightly popular and added to dictionaries (like Apple's dictionary, as I mentioned). If I find the link to the key, I'll add here. Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 16:05
  • @AndyT: Here is one link to the book's solutions. Go to its page 136, or search for "not by foot" in the pdf and you will find the place where the book tells that we don't say "by foot" and say "on foot" only. Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 16:20
  • Then edit that extract into your answer, because the extract you currently have in your answer, which you say is the relevant rule of grammar, doesn't say what you say it does!
    – AndyT
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 16:21

The distinction between "on foot" and "by foot" seems sufficiently explored.  Both are grammatically well-formed phrases with similar but not identical semantic content. 

The distinction between "on foot" and "on a foot" merits some consideration. 

Ordinarily, "foot" is a countable noun, and there is nothing strange or surprising about the constructions "on a foot" and "on one foot".  In English, nouns that are countably singular require a determiner.  No such determiner is found in "on foot" or "by foot". 

The lack of determiner indicates that "foot" is not used in its ordinary countable sense.  The word is pushed into an uncountable sense similar to that of mass nouns:  "on water", "under glass" and "in stone", for example.

A similar distinction exists for other modes of transport:  "on a bus" but "by bus", "on a train" but "by train", "in a car" but "by car", and so on.  Travel by bus, train or even car might involve any number of vehicles of that given type. 

Plural nouns cannot show this distinction.  They are inherently countable.  They do not require a determiner, so the omission of a determiner cannot mark them with an uncountable sense. 

The phrases "on a foot" and "on feet" use the countable noun in its ordinary countable sense.  The phrase "on foot" uses the noun in an uncountable sense.  Marking the uncountable sense requires that the singular form of the noun be used. 


Here are definitions and examples for "on foot"

In English:

walking or running
in progress; astir; afoot

See foot (sense 19)

Example Sentences Including 'on foot'
That probably means lying up by day, travelling on foot by night, keeping out of towns, villages.
- Townsend, Eileen IN LOVE AND WAR
They were followed within minutes by an angry mob of settlers on foot , determined to avenge the murder of one of their leaders.
He parked his BMW on the grass verge, punched in the code for his intruder alarm, then crossed the bridge on foot.
- Forbes, Bryan THE ENDLESS GAME

In American:

walking or running
going on; in process

An example:
And you can use up your excessive energy running after the royesse on foot.
- Lois McMaster Bujold THE CURSE OF CHALION (2001)

Neither Chambers nor Collins have an entry for "by foot"

As has been commented, it is tempting for non-Native speakers to extend the use of by car/by ferry/by aeroplane to situations when you are afoot.

However, making the implicit [means of] explicit gets us: "s/he travelled by means of balloon" - s/he made use of a vehicle s/he had access to, or acquired

"s/he travelled by means of foot" - s/he acquired a foot from ... where? Did s/he use it like a pogo stick?

  • Playing devil's advocate: How would you explain the Oxford Dictionary Online having an entry for on (or by) foot in The Free Dictionary By foot “by walking; as, to pass a stream on foot” and in Macmillan The best way of reaching the beach is by foot.?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 9:00
  • 2
    To reach the beach by foot is a different sense. I haven't yet had the chance to get round all the dictionaries. :-) I generally write my answers by stepwise refinement
    – Euan M
    Commented Dec 2, 2015 at 9:46

I have answered the same question here. In nutshell, On is used for actions involving body parts and by is more commonly used for the means of travelling.

  • I'll upvote this very spartan answer if you could provide a brief summary from the link English lessons Brighton, which you posted on your ELL post.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Dec 17, 2015 at 6:50

It seems that some people use "by foot" in analogy to "by car" (by + vehicle) without knowing that the correct expression is "on foot".

  • @Mari-LouA - Nothing to do with a "typical learner" - as a native speaker I'd happily use either "on foot" or "by foot".
    – AndyT
    Commented Nov 27, 2015 at 15:56

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