Every time I see a different preposition for the word square, I wonder whether I do not understand it or there is a mistake.

On 10 October [1939] they gathered everyone on the brewery square, which belonged to Mr Tejla.

Looking it up in dictionaries I found that square mostly collocates with in in terms of BrE. When it comes to AmE it's on. How about at, which also refers to place but not specific?

  • Some nouns take several prepositions. Square is one. For me, an AmE speaker, on the square is the least likely choice to use. Nevertheless, I would use it if that were the nuance I was going for. – Robusto Jun 6 '15 at 11:10
  • Just to confuse things, there is also "out of square". – Hot Licks Jun 6 '15 at 11:41
  • (I'm thinking this question appeared a few months ago.) – Hot Licks Jun 6 '15 at 11:43
  • It's a metaphor thing. On refers to a 2-dimensional space (on the lawn) and in to a 3-dimensional space (in the yard); surprisingly, yard is 3-dimensional, while lawn is 2-. It's explained here, for instance, as well as here – John Lawler Jun 6 '15 at 14:47

I agree with Robusto's comment. As a BrE speaker, I'd use "in the square" to refer to a location.

I'd say on the square when I meant "at right angles to [something], or "honest". This is a reference to measuring an angle with a "square", and is/was used by Freemasons to refer to each other, and has entered the language more generally.

On the Square


i) (idiomatic) Honest and open.

ii) A discreet, unassuming reference to freemasonry.

Usage notes

This phrase is associated with Freemasonry: The angle measures the square, the symbol of earth and the realm of the material. The square represents fairness, balance, and firmness which is reflected in phrases such as "on the square" and "squared away." Something that is squared is something that is stable, a foundation for building upon.



As an AmE speaker I would use "in the square." But I would also say, "Let's meet on the quad."

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