the books on the shelf or the books in the shelf


which is grammatically correct?  The books ON the shellf are new or The books IN the shelf are new.

Thanks  for your help ;-)

asked Jan 11 '13 at 22:00 tchraim New member

3 answers


On means that it is on top of something (like a table).  In means that it is inside of something (like a box). 


The book is on the shelf.  The only thing in the shelf is wood.


The book is in the bookshelf.  The bookshelf is the entire piece of furniture, like a box that is open on the side.

link comment answered Jan 11 '13 at 22:13 Patty T Grammarly Fellow

I agree 100% with Patty, and would just add that The book is on the bookshelf would mean that the book is located on top of that piece of furniture, not on any of its shelves.  When you have as many books as I do, that is a distinct possibility.  :)

link comment answered Jan 12 '13 at 00:02 Shawn Mooney Expert

'in' implies that the field is enclosed, whereas 'on' implies only that the following noun denotes a surface and not necessarily an enclosed area.


The sheep are grazing in the pasture. (enclosed by a fence)
The cattle are grazing on the open range. (not enclosed by a fence )

similarly... self is open not enclosed by anything , so the logic follows there too and 'on' is used instead of 'in' ....

link comment answered Jun 05 '14 at 10:02 sourav New member

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