Difference Between Similar Terms and Objects

Difference Between On and In

education-classroom-pdOn vs In

On basically means something over or on the surface. In basically means something inside or within. Many people new to the English language get confused about the usage of these two terms. So, if you were talking about a programme showing on television, you would say that: ‘That program is ON the TV’. If you were talking about a faulty part inside the machine, you would say: ‘There is something wrong IN the TV’.

On also connotes the on/off state of machines. On means switched-on or working. In also has a different meaning when used to describe things that are fashionable; so one would say: ‘That color is IN fashion nowadays’. If you saw a worm crawling on the skin of an apple, you would say it is ‘on’ the fruit, while if you cut an apple and found a worm there, then you would say that it is ‘in’ the fruit.

English is a very versatile language, and there are many different ways to use even these two simple words; more than can be described in this short article. For example, ‘onwards’ means ‘to go forward’ or henceforth, and ‘inwards’ means to go ‘deeper within’. There are no fixed uses for many English words, and these two are perfect examples of that. There are simply too many ways to use them, and new ways get added to the lingo and popular vocabulary everyday thanks to the rapid spread and adaptation to local manners of the English language.

On can also be substituted with ‘onto’, which is basically the original old English word from which the new more compact and easy to use ‘on’ has been derived. Similarly, ‘in’ can easily be substituted with ‘inside’/’into’, but not at all places, due to the many uses of ‘in’ that have permeated the popular language, like ‘in fashion’, etc. Thus, ‘in’ seems to be a more versatile word compared to ‘on’. Let us look at a few more sentence examples to make the differences more clear. ‘He is onto us’ vs. ‘He is into us’. The former could be spoken by a gang of criminals who are talking about a law-enforcer. The latter could be spoken by members of a rock band who might be talking about a big fan.

With ‘on’ and ‘in’, only their first letter is different, so ‘on’ the surface they seem like pretty similar words, but if you prod a bit deeper ‘inside’, then you will see that there is a world of difference between them.


1) ‘On’ means something that is external, and ‘in’ refers to something that as internal.

2) ‘On’ would be used to describe two items that are usually separate, but together at present.

3) ‘In’ would be used to describe items that might be separately identifiable, but are one and single for the time being.

4) ‘On’ means superficial, and ‘in’ means deeper, or under the surface.

5) You are ‘on this webpage’, but the hardware that makes your computer work is ‘in the computer’.

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