“Get in a car” vs. “Get on a bus”: Why?

"Maserati GranTurismo at night" by The original uploader was Modrak at English Wikipedia(Original text: Ondra "modrak" Soukup) - Own work (Original text: self-made). Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Maserati_GranTurismo_at_night.jpg#/media/File:Maserati_GranTurismo_at_night.jpg

If you study English as a second language, this is probably one of those things you were told just to memorize: you say “get in” and “get out of” for a car, taxi, etc. but you say “get on” or “get off” for a bus or train.

But why do we make a distinction? For things like horses and motorcycles, “get on” makes sense, since we are literally on top of it. However, we are physically inside a bus, so why can’t we say “get in a bus?”

The rule is:

If you can walk onto it and stand up inside, you say “get on”. If not, you say “get in”

To illustrate, let’s list out some other methods of transportation:


Get in a car

Get in a taxi

Get in a truck

Get in a van

These are all vehicles we cannot stand up inside (for a truck, we cannot stand up inside the part where we drive; if you’re talking about the back, you could say “get on the truck”)


Get on a bus

Get on a train

Get on an airplane

For all these, you can walk onto them and stand up inside them.


"Spirit Airlines Airbus A319-100" by Iluvaviation - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spirit_Airlines_Airbus_A319-100.jpg#/media/File:Spirit_Airlines_Airbus_A319-100.jpg

This rule is especially illustrated by vehicles where we could use either “in” or “on”, depending on the size of the vehicle. We normally say “get on an airplane” but if you have a small, single-engine airplane, you would normally say “get in”. The same goes for boats, where we get on a large ship, but get in a canoe. This is also true for helicopters, submarines, and spaceships.

What is the most exotic form of transportation you have ever ridden in/on? Have you ever ridden in a rickshaw? On a hovercraft?

Peacock Logo - black

Images:

Car: “Maserati GranTurismo at night” by Modrak. Licensed under CC BY 3.0

Airplane: “Spirit Airlines Airbus A319-100” by Iluvaviation. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

12 Comments

    1. Good point, but the “get in/get on” rule I mentioned only works for vehicles that you can get inside of. For things like bicycles, motorcycles, horses, etc. you are literally sitting on top of it, so that’s why we say “on”. It’s two different situations.

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  1. What about amusement park rides as far as i’m concerend no one says “I wanna get in the rollar coaster” they say “I wanna go on the rollar coaster”.You get in the seats for the ride which are connected to the ride but you ride on the rollar coaster.So if you get on the seats for the car which are connected to the car but in the car shouldn’t you be able to say “i’m on the car”.

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    1. For something like a roller coaster, we would say “ride on the roller coaster” because in that case “on” refers to the car being on the track. The person cannot move independently inside the roller coaster car, so they are still riding on the roller coaster, as part of the car. We would say “get into the roller coaster car” because we cannot stand up or move around.

      Good example! It’s a special situation since we differentiate between the roller coaster as the ride, and the roller coaster car as the vehicle.

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