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"This data has been sitting on my hard drive for years." OR "This data has been sitting in my hard drive for years."

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    This data? Oh dear.
    – David
    Jun 25, 2020 at 17:35
  • @David Is that wrong??
    – user323595
    Jun 25, 2020 at 19:02
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    Data is plural. The singular is datum. Admittedly this is pedantic, and the word is commonly used in the singular, but if you read the description of the purpose of the site, I would find this sort of question on preference for prepositions in a technical context inappropriate.
    – David
    Jun 25, 2020 at 19:06
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    @Levi Merriam-Webster's definition of data says that is both singular and plural, and Oxford (Lexico) says that it's a mass noun. So, unless you are writing for a technical publication with a style guide that says to only use data in the plural, there is nothing wrong with using data in the singular. Especially in non-technical contexts, these data, while correct, no longer sounds as idiomatic as this data. Jun 25, 2020 at 19:23

2 Answers 2

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According to Google Ngram Viewer, data is never in a hard drive, but always on a hard drive.

Comparing data on the hard drive to data in the hard drive, Google shows that (at least in print), on is quite common, but in doesn't exist at all:

data in or on the hard drive

This result matches my own impression from my years in IT. Almost nobody ever says that data is in a hard drive.


As for the verb, although sitting would be understood, and I see nothing wrong with it informally, if you want to use the verb that's most common, simply used stored.

Again per Google Ngram Viewer, stored is far more common:

data stored on versus data sitting on


In conclusion, the most common of phrases would be the following:

This data has been stored on my hard drive for years.

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  • 'Sitting on' is far from rigorously synonymous with 'stored on'; the 'lying around idly' implications are far stronger. I'd stick with 'sitting on' here. But +1 for the research and a better answer than the one accepted. Jun 25, 2020 at 13:59
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"In" and "on" seem both acceptable; I'd choose "in" however as I picture the relationship of data to repository as a containing one where the bits are actually part of the physical structure of the disk. As for "sitting" there is nothing metaphorical about it since it has come to mean "to be in a particular place" (OALD, 3).

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  • Thank you. But is it correct to use "sitting" at all? Does that sound like something a native would say?
    – user323595
    Jun 25, 2020 at 8:27
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    @Levi It is not a verb I'd use, personally, as I have a certain aversion for changing the fundamental meaning of words to make them say something else than what they've initially been construed to express, but it is nevertheless a common practice to assign meanings that way, in all language, and we have to live with it. According to the the dictionary, I must conclude that this usage is native of English; nevertheless, I couldn't say that all speakers of English have a neutral attitude towards it; some of them might share my point of view.
    – LPH
    Jun 25, 2020 at 8:38
  • I don't know what I would do without your help. Thank you so much.
    – user323595
    Jun 25, 2020 at 8:42
  • 'There is nothing metaphorical about it' is incorrect. The prototypical meaning involves buttocks; the fact that dictionaries now often list common metaphorical extensions, as here, does not mean that metaphorical extensions no longer involve metaphor. That's not how the overarching term is used. A dead metaphor still involves metaphor / metaphorical broadening of the original usage. // And as @Jason's research indicates, the surface (on) rather than the container metaphor for hard drives is idiomatic. Jun 25, 2020 at 13:55
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    @EdwinAshworth I agree that in the derivation of the meaning, there is a metaphorical process, but in the use of the derived term, which has acquired a well established new meaning, there is no metaphorical use of a term, not even a figurative one and just a plain literal meaning. I don't think we have to go into the process of derivation here, that is not the point.
    – LPH
    Jun 25, 2020 at 14:22

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