Can you say "I left my car back on the parking lot"?

I know that people usually use in. Is it absolutely incorrect to use on? Because I saw they use on in this bilingual magazine Báo Song Ngữ

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  • Please stop using "true" incorrectly. True does not mean grammatical. – tchrist Jul 16 '18 at 2:16
  • @tchrist Stop? Have you known the OP for long? – Kris Jul 16 '18 at 5:45
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    "Is it absolutely incorrect to use on ?" No, it is not incorrect. It depends on the sentence. Can you show the complete sentence where it was used? – Kris Jul 16 '18 at 5:50

If we mean 'the surface' the preposition 'on' is used. If we mean 'the space, like underground parking' I would use 'in'.


I walk in a park but I walk on a pavement (or sidewalk if you're American)

Why is this relevant? Because a park is a deliniated space which could be enclosed with walls or fences whilst a thoroughfare is not: by definition a thoroughfare passes between places, it's not a place in its own right.

Similarly I can leave my car on a street but in a car park (or parking lot if you're American) because the street is a thoroughfare and the car park is a deliniated space which could be enclosed (many are).

The same applies to fields, there is an old joke that an academic is a man outstanding in his field but a farmer is a man, out, standing in his field. This wouldn't work if we didn't habitually speak of being in rather than on a field.

I can, however, leave my car on a garage forecourt. This is because, although the forecourt is defined in law it is not, usually, deliniated physically so is considered in some sense to be part of the thoroughfare onto which it faces.

The only other space I can think of which I would refer to being on rather than in would be a building plot or a vacant lot. Since Americans refer to open car parks as parking lots I can understand why there is some flexibility in the use of in and on but a parking lot is a space set aside for parking cars so it becomes a deliniated space and therefore in is more appropriate. I would only speak about leaving my car on a vacant lot.

Update I've just thought of another space which I would speak of as being on, that is a sports field or pitch. However sports fields are usually part of another area like a stadium or recreational park and are, therefore, more like the stage of a theatre, One is in the stadium or park even if one is on the field of play. Also we don't often get to park cars on the field of play:-)


You can say on the parking lot when the alternative possibility in the listener’s mind is off the parking lot. For example,

  • We went boating with Mike and his wife. Our friends Joan and Edie couldn’t make it, so we took my boat and left his rig back on the parking lot.

  • The festival organizers opened a couple of fields for extra parking. I got there early and left my car on the parking lot. Mud just doesn’t appeal to me.

  • The exhibition of flying cars was impressive. Ours was just a mockup, though, so we had to leave it parked on the parking lot. In the end we hitched a ride with a balloonist.

Usually, though, the alternatives are in the parking lot and out of or outside the parking lot, i.e. the alternatives are inside and outside, as opposed to on and off.

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    I would most definitely use “in” in all your cases above. – Jim Jul 16 '18 at 3:06
  • The use of in with parking lot will rarely be wrong, but English prepositions can be used to convey a broader set of meanings. If you are hiking in a large park, for example, it would be natural to say that you left your car back at the parking lot. – Global Charm Jul 16 '18 at 15:38
  • I agree. But I still can’t wrap my brain around “leaving a vehicle or rig on a parking lot” especially when the purpose is for parking. I might consider on for the location of some heavy equipment that might sink into the ground if it weren’t on the parking lot. But I’d even land a helicopter in a parking lot not on it. Maybe if snow fell but it all melted off the tarmac, I might say that there’s no snow on the parking lot, but i’d probably reword and say there’s snow on the ground everywhere except for the parking lot. – Jim Jul 16 '18 at 15:50
  • @Jim I grew up near a park that had a boat launching ramp (with 4 lanes, no less), and a paved parking lot reserved for cars and trucks with trailers. Adjacent to this was an unpaved parking lot for extra rigs, and another (separately accessed) paved parking lot for people who simply wanted to hike or picnic. On the parking lot would be a common response to "Where is your boat?" It could also refer to the car, trailer and boat together. – Global Charm Jul 16 '18 at 19:08
  • I’d take that to be a sort of joke response because one might expect your boat to be on the water. – Jim Jul 16 '18 at 19:21

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