“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

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

    • 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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