July 26, 2016

When to Use 'In' 'Under' and 'On'

2 minute read

Prepositions can be very confusing. Why do English-speaking people say that they are "in the car" but "on the train"? Why do we distinguish between being "in time" (I.e. We'll arrive before it's too late) on "on time" (I.e. We'll arrive exactly when we're supposed to)? Why do we say that we are "in control" of a situation, but also that the situation is "under control"?

Unfortunately, there are just no easy answers to these questions. Getting your propositions right isn't always perfectly logical. Sometimes you just have to remember them.

What's more, when it comes to idioms and metaphors, you really do have to learn the correct prepositions by heart. Here are some common English phrases that use 'in', 'on' and 'under' that will help you to become much more fluent when you use them correctly.

"In" Phrases

In a bad mood: To be grumpy or angry

In a terrible state: Either a person is very upset about something, or something is very disorganised and confusing

In a fix / In a mess / In a pickle: To be in a difficult situation

In the firing line: The person who will get blamed or in trouble over what has happened

In demand: Lots of people want this thing or this person

"Under" Phrases

Under pressure: Experiencing lots of stress, or people are expecting you to succeed at something difficult

Under fire: You are being personally blamed for the problems that are happening

Under his/her thumb: When a person seems to be controlled by someone else

Under the weather: Feeling unwell

"On" Phrases

On fire: Often this really does mean that something is burning, but when a person says 'I'm on fire!" or "You're on fire today!" they usually mean that they are impressed by how much work you are doing or how successful you have been.

On a roll: This also means that things are going really well

On it: This means that you have started doing something/ are about to start it, e.g. "Did you call the client about the new contract?" "Yes, I'm on it!"

On the ball: Aware of what's going on around you and good at dealing with problems.

On demand: Something that you can have or do as soon as you want it, without having to wait. For example, Netflix is an 'on demand' TV service.

On a bender: When someone goes out partying or drinking heavily for a long period of time, we say that they are "on a bender"

On another planet: When someone seems very distracted or unaware of what is happening around them. Another way of saying this is "In their own little world".

Which English prepositions do you struggle with most? Let us know in the comments section below!