I'm having one of those moments, I just can't remember how to say it. By air, by water, by ground? Or is it by airplane, boat, and car? I was reading about an island where the writer was saying "the island can be reached by kayak" so it got me thinking. Thank you for your help.

  • It can be both, depending on the situation. The more specific you are, obviously, the harder it is to get somewhere. You can get there by air vs you can get there by plane vs you can only get there by ski-plane. – John Feltz Oct 26 '16 at 21:55
  • Oh I see. But something was confusing me, let me see if I can put my finger on it.... Okay, I think I got it: So water, for instance, as opposed to boat, that's medium vs means, right? And I guess I am used to using the word "through" when talking about medium. And yet we use "by" in both cases, right? And same with if someone said they can reach downtown "by car" and "by ground"? (using by ground sounds funny here for some reason, perhaps it indicates a place far away and one we may not be sure how to reach). – Jlente Oct 26 '16 at 22:03
  • 'The island can be reached by kayak' is fine, but 'He went by kayak' doesn't sound very idiomatic. 'By ground' sounds far worse. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 26 '16 at 22:36

I would say "by air, by land or by sea". It's a set phrase but you can use only one of the alternatives if that be the case. I believe this is what you are asking.


If we say 'I'm going by air' this is perfectly acceptable but does imply the use of some sort of aircraft (since none of us can really fly without one). Similarly 'I'm going by water' usually implies some sort of boat or ship.

However talking about travelling on dry land is a bit more complicated. The most general term is 'going (or travelling) overland' but this implies either a long journey, a degree of hardship or a combination of the two. We would be unlikely to say 'I'm going overland from Manchester to London', we would be more likely specify the means of transport by saying 'I'm going to London by train' or I'm driving to London'.

These last two are examples of the other way we talk about means of travel where we specify the method more or less specifically. The 'can be reached by kayak' usage is an example of the extreme end of this. 'Can be reached by small boat' is rather more general but does exclude ships, ferries and even yachts and cabin cruisers.

The 'overland' category includes lots of sub categories ranging from 'on foot' through 'by bicycle', 'by road' and 'off road' to 'by train', 'by bus' and 'by taxi' and even 'by public transport'

The only expression in the question which is not idiomatic is 'by ground' This would either be 'overland' or, usually, something more specific.


By air, by sea, or by rail.

If I put myself back a while, before the railways were dismantled in the U.S., and when commercial air flight was starting to be an option, I think this is what the phrase would look like.

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