Stack Exchange has a special feature that displays the hottest questions from its 170 or more sites across the network, it's called Hot Network Questions or HNQ for short.

Most users will see to their right a short list of “hot” questions but HNQ also has its own page, which complicates things a little, so do the most popular/highest rated questions go on or in HNQ? Do they appear in or on a list?

a question appearing on/in HNQ
a question was on/in HNQ
questions listed in/on HNQ
questions can linger in/on HNQ

I searched the following words on in list preposition in the EL&U archives and this post turned up When should I use "in" or "on"? the accepted answer said

For my dialect, it's: "good luck on" and "on the list".

Does Alan Hogue's answer suggest there are no fundamental differences?
Are there any differences in usage between American and British English?

  • 2
    At least in the US, names are considered to be on the No Fly List (for example). To me (Canada), a name being on a list sounds much more natural than a name being in a list. For what it's worth, Google Books suggests this for both US and UK English. Nov 12, 2018 at 8:48
  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/462053/…
    – user 66974
    Nov 12, 2018 at 9:37
  • 1
    What is on HNQ has little to do with what is in HNQ, leaving alone dialectical differences.
    – Kris
    Nov 12, 2018 at 9:44
  • 11
    This question is now in/on HNQ. :)
    – Quintec
    Nov 12, 2018 at 14:44
  • I think I usually say the question has hit the HNQ (though maybe it would be more descriptive to say that the HNQ has hit the question).
    – 1006a
    Nov 12, 2018 at 22:44

3 Answers 3


Flipping over to Google Ngram it appears that in the list and on the list are used fairly equally with little difference between BrE and AmE.

Myself, as a BrE user, I would speak of items in the HNQ list that is on the HNQ page.

One of the problems with prepositions is that they are polysemous, some argue so polysemous that they effectively have no meaning - delexicalised - and others (I remember Lakoff being one) suggested a 'prototypes' approach in which each preposition has some core characteristic that is present in all uses. Lindstromberg tried to apply this to 'on' and concluded that he couldn't even begin to find a core characteristic that would embrace both "on the table" and "the car sped on".

Despite this, I think the prototype idea has merit. In a box and in trouble both suggest being surrounded, and so does in a list. Yet people do say on the guest list and on the no fly list. Both of these seem to be connected with permission, either granting it or refusing it. Maybe it is taking in a sense of 'invitation' (or 'anti-invitation', whatever one of those is called), so a name is on the invitation as in printed on its surface, or on a ticket, and this is being transferred to on a list if that list gives or refuses permission to enter.

  • 1
    I would suggest that in "the car sped on", the word "on" plays the role of an adverb, regardless of what part of speech it is defined as. Nov 12, 2018 at 16:51
  • 1
    As an American, I can't think of a situation where I would describe anything as "in" a list of any kind. For example, bananas might be on my shopping list. Perhaps it's purely regional? Nov 12, 2018 at 16:59
  • 1
    Your Ngram might be more useful with more context. Comparing phrases like "is in/on the list" and a person/an item on the list" suggests some distinct differences in how we use "on a list" vs "in a list".
    – 1006a
    Nov 12, 2018 at 22:35
  • books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – 1006a
    Nov 12, 2018 at 22:35
  • How do you you get a person to be on HNQ? Ngram is kind of 'quick 'n' dirty', a slight improvement on just counting hits in Google. It is easy to use, draws a graph, and gives a general guideline but it is not really a corpus. If I were making comparisons such as you suggest, I would be on BNC or similar. Nov 12, 2018 at 23:04

I believe it is "On" because here we are dealing with HNQ as a position where the question is located. So, we say:

The most popular/highest rated questions on HNQ.

Exactly as we say "the most popular series on HBO", or "a question on page 12".


It depends on what type of object you infer HNQ to be.

If you infer HNQ as HNQ (list), then, as a collection or set, the correct usage is "in the HNQ (list)."

If you infer HNQ as HNQ (page), then, as a surface, the correct usage is "on the HNQ (page)." The only time this is applicable is if you are referring to the panel/surface area/page that the HNQ (List) resides on.

The problem seems to be that just saying HNQ is ambiguous, even though it probably shouldn't be. When you look at the acronym, the noun is Questions, which is a set of singular questions. This should preempt any ambiguity as the base type is a set of questions. Individual questions are either in the set or not in the set. Without additional qualifiers such as page, (List) should be the default interpretation.

  • 3
    some users say "on the HNQ (list)"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 12, 2018 at 16:21
  • Something is still missing. My name is in the phonebook but is on Santa's Nice List. Both are sets or collections but it just does not sound right to be on the phonebook or in Santa's list.
    – Michael J.
    Nov 12, 2018 at 16:48
  • @MichaelJ. You probably internally interpret a phonebook as a set of individual phone numbers rather than a single surface. Santa's list is traditionally described as a long physical page which contains a list, so there can be ambiguity when describing a physical page that's titled, "Santa's list": are you referring to the page that contains a list or the actual list? Both are reasonably assumed in that situation.
    – user105360
    Nov 12, 2018 at 18:41
  • @Physics-Compute: I almost upvoted you for “It depends on what type of object you infer HNQ to be.” / “If you infer HNQ … as a collection or set, the correct usage is "in the HNQ …." ”  But then I saw that you support “in the HNQ (list).”, and I disagree — it’s on a list.  And I really disagree with your comment “You probably internally interpret a phonebook as a set of individual phone numbers rather than a single surface.”  It’s always in for a book (unless you put your coffee mug on a book because you can’t find a coaster).  … (Cont’d) Nov 12, 2018 at 20:56
  • (Cont’d) …  See John Lawler’s answer about surfaces and containers, and this and this.  … … … … … … … … … … … … … @MichaelJ. These are also for you. Nov 12, 2018 at 21:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.