Take an instance with some of the most common English prepositions: in, on, at, below, and above.

  1. The noun "aircraft" goes with "on", but is the sentence "Parachuters jump off the plane" must be used in this context? Can it go with "out of"?
  • 1
    What do you mean by "relative to one another"? What do you mean by "is the sentence 'Parachuters jump off the plane' must be used in this context?"
    – alphabet
    Feb 3 at 15:27
  • 1
    Prepositions aren't as invariable as you believe. I got on the plane—most common. I got into the plane—less common, but perfectly grammatical. Feb 3 at 16:03
  • Prototypical usages of prepositions show locative / directional relations between two referents (The ball is on / beside / under / behind / by ... the table; she went to / from ... the station) or temporal ones (the speech is before / after / during after the meal). But increasingly metaphorical to peripheral usages get trickier and more idiosyncratic (he was on the train; the shed was on fire). Feb 3 at 16:05
  • To reply to Alphabet's comment, I would like to point out that "relative to one another" means prepositions related to other prepositions (antonyms, synonyms, etc). For instance, the opposite of "get onto a plane" is "get off a plane". Feb 3 at 16:10
  • 1
    I think there is confusion between phrasal verbs per se versus verbs with a prepositional phrase.
    – Lambie
    Feb 3 at 17:25

1 Answer 1


If I get off a plane, it means that the plane is on the ground and I am simply disembarking on foot. If I get out of a plane, it means that I am using an unconventional method of leaving the plane -- it might be still airborne if I am a parachutist; or it might be on fire and I am using the emergency slide; or it might be (from Kate Bunting's comment) that it's a small plane that you have to climb out of, instead of leaving it on foot.

This mirrors the opposite usage: if I get on a plane, I am boarding it in the normal way, on foot. If I get into a plane, I am crawling in through a window, or something similar.

So your notion of "relative" prepositions is valid here.

  • I would argue that this isn't necessarily true; for instance, if it's the kind of plane where you have to climb out of the cockpit, out of would be a reasonable preposition to use. Feb 3 at 17:20
  • @KateBunting:Yes, I agree. I've edited my answer accordingly.
    – TonyK
    Feb 3 at 17:25
  • For on and into, particularly with modes of transport, on is used for entering a conveyance on foot ("on a plane"; "on a bus"; "on a train"; "on a ship") and into when you can't do that ("into a car"). "When you can't do that" also holds true for the first list: "got into a bus" implies you didn't walk on normally. And "he travelled on a car" suggests something different from "he travelled in a car." [This doesn't change your answer, which is entirely correct; but expands it a little.]
    – Andrew Leach
    Feb 3 at 18:08
  • There's definitely a lot of variation. "On the plane" applies to passengers taking a flight, but "in the plane" applies certainly to some inanimate objects, possibly to a pilot in a warplane or a cleaner in an airport, maybe if the plane was an exhibit in a museum, etc.
    – Stuart F
    Feb 3 at 18:11

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