Why is it when you’re trying to describe to someone while you are utilizing public transit (bus, train, etc.) you say you’re “on the bus” or “on the train”. You aren’t technically on the vehicle, rather, you’re inside the vehicle. However, saying you’re in the bus or in the train leaves the impression that you’re somehow in the inner workings of the vehicle. Additionally, you don’t say you’re “on the car” rather you’re “in the car”.

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    "...there is no logical way of deciding which preposition goes with a particular noun, verb or adjective. Consider these examples: the reason for, arrive at, angry with somebody, on a train. " British Council – Cascabel May 4 at 16:20
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    See also this Q&A at our sister site, English Language Learners. – Hellion May 4 at 23:01

Once upon a time, in England, it used to be that we had to climb on board a bus, train or ship. I guess that board means something like a platform. So, we say we're (travelling) on a bus, train or ship.

You cannot go on board a car, but we still say "all aboard!" especially for ships, trains and buses. And we need a boarding pass when we travel by air. Over time the word "board" was dropped, and now we're left with "on".

  • Also, once upon a time, buses were horse-drawn and did not necessarily have roof coverings - so you really were on it: you could not be in an open-topped vehicle! – TrevorD May 4 at 17:25
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    @TrevorD good point about the open "cab" feature! google.com/…: – Mari-Lou A May 4 at 20:35
  • @TrevorD if you're "in" a convertible with the top down, are you not technically "in" an open-topped vehicle? – Joe Blow May 4 at 22:54
  • @JoeBlow I wasn't discussing modern vehicles having a retractable roof - I was referring to vehicles having no roof! And yes, you can be in an open-topped container - and you can 'step into' a modern car. But once you've climbed up and onto an old-fashioned open horse-drawn vehicle (see google link in Mari-Lou's comment), you were more "on" them than "in" them. You can use either in or on in many instances; I was merely making a connection as to why one might be on an old-fashioned vehicle. – TrevorD May 4 at 23:16

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