Buses are a convenient and environmentally friendly way to get around. But should you say you’re ‘on the bus’ or ‘in the bus’? This is a common question for English learners and native speakers alike. Read on as we unpack the subtle differences between ‘on the bus’ and ‘in the bus’, when to use each, and some helpful examples.

If you’re short on time, here’s the quick answer: you say ‘on the bus’ when referring to the act of riding a bus as a mode of transportation. ‘In the bus’ refers to being inside the vehicle itself.

The Difference Between ‘On’ and ‘In’

When it comes to prepositions, understanding the difference between “on” and “in” can sometimes be a challenge. Both prepositions are commonly used to indicate position or location, but they are not interchangeable. Let’s take a closer look at the specific meanings of each preposition.

‘On’ refers to the surface or position

The preposition “on” is typically used to describe something that is in contact with, or resting upon, a surface. For example, if you say “I left my book on the table,” you are indicating that the book is physically touching the surface of the table.

Similarly, when you say “I sat on the bus,” you are referring to the act of physically occupying a seat or position on the bus.

It is important to note that “on” can also be used to express a general location or direction. For instance, if you say “I live on Main Street,” you are specifying the street where your residence is situated. In this case, “on” is used to indicate a general area or vicinity.

‘In’ refers to being enclosed within something

On the other hand, the preposition “in” is used to convey the idea of being enclosed within something. For example, when you say “I left my phone in the car,” you are indicating that your phone is inside the vehicle.

Similarly, if you say “I am sitting in the bus,” you are referring to being inside the bus, surrounded by its walls and structure.

It’s worth mentioning that “in” can also be used to indicate a location or direction when referring to larger areas, such as cities or countries. For instance, if you say “I live in New York,” you are specifying the city where you reside.

In this case, “in” is used to denote being within the boundaries of the city.

When to Use ‘On the Bus’

When it comes to using the preposition ‘on’ with the word ‘bus,’ there are several instances where it is appropriate. Let’s explore when to use ‘on the bus’.

Talking about riding the bus as transportation

One common usage of ‘on the bus’ is when referring to the act of riding the bus as a means of transportation. For example, you might say, “I prefer to take the bus to work because it saves me money on parking.”

In this case, ‘on the bus’ signifies being physically present inside the bus while it is in motion.

Referring to the bus’s route or schedule

‘On the bus’ can also be used when discussing the route or schedule of a bus. For instance, you might say, “The bus on this route arrives every 15 minutes.” Here, ‘on the bus’ implies that the bus is following a specific route or schedule.

Indicating a temporary stay on the bus

Another situation where ‘on the bus’ is appropriate is when indicating a temporary stay or activity that takes place inside the bus. For example, you might say, “I met an interesting person on the bus today.”

In this case, ‘on the bus’ suggests that the interaction or event occurred during the duration of the bus ride.

It’s worth noting that the usage of ‘on the bus’ can vary depending on context and regional dialect. In some cases, ‘in the bus’ might also be used interchangeably with ‘on the bus.’ However, it is generally more common to use ‘on the bus’ in the situations mentioned above.

For more information on proper grammar usage and prepositions, you can visit Grammarly’s blog.

When to Use ‘In the Bus’

Referring to being inside the vehicle itself

When discussing the physical location of someone or something inside a bus, the preposition “in” is used. For example, if you are talking about where a person is sitting or standing while on a bus, you would say they are “in the bus.”

This usage emphasizes the person or object being enclosed within the vehicle.

Example: She sat in the bus, eagerly waiting for her stop to arrive.

In this sentence, the use of “in” emphasizes that the person is physically inside the bus, occupying a seat or standing in the aisle.

Describing activities happening inside the bus

Another instance where “in” is used is when describing activities or events taking place within the confines of a bus. This could include conversations, performances, or any other action that occurs within the vehicle.

Example: The children were singing loudly in the bus, creating a joyful atmosphere.

In this example, the use of “in” highlights that the singing is happening inside the bus, contributing to the atmosphere and experience of those on board.

It’s important to note that the use of “in” may vary depending on regional dialect or personal preference. In some cases, “on” may also be used interchangeably with “in” when referring to being inside a bus. However, “in” is generally more common and widely accepted.

Exceptions and Special Cases

Using ‘in’ for certain bus types like school buses

While the general rule is to use the preposition ‘on’ when referring to traveling by bus, there are some exceptions to this rule. One such exception is when referring to specific types of buses, such as school buses. In these cases, it is more common to use the preposition ‘in’ instead of ‘on’.

For example, a sentence like “The children are in the school bus” sounds more natural and is commonly used in everyday speech. This usage emphasizes the idea of being inside the bus, as opposed to simply sitting on top of it.

It is worth noting that this exception applies mainly to school buses and similar types of buses that are designed for specific purposes. When talking about public transportation buses or other types of buses, the preposition ‘on’ is still the preferred choice.

Other idiomatic expressions with ‘bus’

Besides the exception mentioned above, there are also some idiomatic expressions where the preposition ‘on’ is used with the word ‘bus’ in a different way.

For example, the phrase “on the bus” is often used to refer to someone who is actively involved in a particular situation or activity. It can be used metaphorically to describe someone who is fully engaged or invested in a project or task.

For instance, “John is really on the bus with this new marketing campaign; he’s putting in a lot of effort to make it a success.”

Additionally, the expression “get on the bus” can be used to encourage someone to join a movement or adopt a particular ideology. It signifies joining a group or cause. For instance, “Come on, get on the bus and support our environmental initiatives!”

It’s important to remember that these idiomatic expressions are specific to the English language and may not have a direct translation in other languages. Therefore, it’s essential to grasp their meaning and usage within the context of English communication.


To summarize, you generally say ‘on the bus’ when referring to it as a mode of transportation, and ‘in the bus’ when referring to the interior of the vehicle. But as with many tricky grammar topics, there are some exceptions to note.

When in doubt, focus on whether you’re referring primarily to the bus’s route or schedule (‘on the bus’) vs. its interior (‘in the bus’). With practice and exposure to real-world usage, choosing the right preposition will become second nature.

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