Meaning of “on” in the English Dictionary

"on" in British English

See all translations


uk /ɒn/ us /ɑːn/

on preposition (ABOVE)

A1 used to show that something is in a position above something else and touching it, or that something is moving into such a position:

Look at all the books on your desk!
Ow, you're standing on my foot!
Your suitcase is on top of the wardrobe.
They live in that old house on the hill.
I got on my bike and left.

More examples

  • A hovercraft travels on a cushion of air.
  • Don't put your elbows on the table.
  • Your dinner is on the table.
  • The oil tanker ran aground on a mud bank in thick fog.
  • They've built a new church on the site of the old one.

on preposition (CONNECTED)

A1 covering the surface of, being held by, or connected to something:

There's blood on your shirt.
Which finger do you wear your ring on?
Can you stand on your head?
We could hang this picture on the wall next to the door.
Dogs should be kept on their leashes at all times.
UK We've just moved house and we're not on the phone (= not connected to the phone service) yet.

More examples

  • We get a lot of condensation on the walls in the winter.
  • The article continues/is continued on page ten.
  • There's a new Italian restaurant opening on the high street.
  • She gave him a hit on the head that knocked him flying.
  • We stayed in/at a hotel on the seafront.

on preposition (TIME)

A1 used to show when something happens:

Hair salons don't usually open on Sundays.
What are you doing on Friday?
My birthday's on 30 May.
Would you mind telling me what you were doing on the afternoon of Friday the 13th of March?
The bells in the clock tower ring every hour on the hour (= at exactly one o'clock, two o'clock, etc.).
On a clear day you can see the mountains from here.
She was dead on arrival (= dead when she arrived) at the hospital.
Please leave your key at the reception desk on your departure from (= when you leave) the hotel.

More examples

  • They're driving to Scotland on Tuesday.
  • Private cars are banned from the city on alternate days.
  • Please make my excuses at the meeting on Friday.
  • We're going on a shopping expedition on Saturday.
  • We've fallen into the habit of getting up late on Saturday mornings.

on preposition (WRITING)

A2 used to show where something has been written, printed, or drawn:

Which page is that curry recipe on?
His initials were engraved on the back of his watch.
What's on the menu tonight? (= What food is available?)

More examples

  • It says on the label that no preservatives or artificial colourings have been added.
  • Do you recognize the writing on the envelope?
  • This morning's newspapers all carry the same story on their front page.
  • He carved her name on a tree.
  • See the article on page 4 for more details.

on preposition (TRAVEL)

A2 used for showing some methods of travelling:

She's coming in on the 5.30 bus.
We went to France on the ferry.
It'd be quicker to get there on foot.

More examples

  • We're going across to France on the ferry.
  • We fell asleep on the train and woke up to find ourselves in Calais.
  • The railcard allows students and young people to travel half-price on most trains.
  • I'll collect you from the station. Which bus will you be on?
  • The crowd were surrounded by police on horseback.

Thesaurus: synonyms and related words

On or off

You can also find related words, phrases, and synonyms in the topics:

on preposition (PROCESS)

used to show that a condition or process is being experienced:

He accidentally set his bed on fire.
Max's on holiday this week.
I often get carsick when I'm on a long journey.
Crime is on the increase (= is increasing) again.
UK Their flights to Paris are on special offer at the moment.
UK I'll be away on a training course next week.

More examples

  • Sophia fell ill/was taken ill while on holiday.
  • There are few indications (that) the economy is on an upswing.
  • We won't be going on holiday this year - lack of funds, I'm afraid.
  • The Titanic sank on her maiden voyage.
  • He often goes away on business.

on preposition (RECORDING)

A2 used to show the form in which something is recorded or performed:

How much data can you store on the flash drive?
When's the movie coming out on DVD?
I was really embarrassed the first time I saw myself on film.
What's on TV tonight?
I wish there was more jazz on the radio.

More examples

  • The whole car can be modelled on a computer before a single component is made.
  • He was clattering away on his old typewriter.
  • She comes across really well on television.
  • Some software can be configured to prevent children from giving out their phone numbers on the internet.
  • Sound and pictures can be stored digitally, as on a CD.

on preposition (PAIN)

B2 used to show what causes pain or injury as a result of being touched:

I hit my head on the shelf as I was standing up.
Be careful not to cut yourself on that knife.

More examples

  • She banged her knee on the edge of the desk.
  • He smashed his elbow on the door.
  • He scraped his hands on the pavement when he fell off his bike.
  • The chef burned himself on the oven.
  • She pricked her finger on the needle.

on preposition (TO)

A2 to or towards:

Our house is the first on the left after the post office.
The attack on the village lasted all night.
I wish you wouldn't sneak up on me like that!

More examples

  • The road is the second on the left past the church.
  • His words are an attack on personal liberty.
  • Take the first turning on the left.
  • They survived the onslaught of bombing on the village.
  • We came on them in the wood.

on preposition (RELATING)

B1 relating to:

Her talk is on Italian women's literature.
The minister has refused to comment on the allegations.
Criticism has no effect on him.
Do the police have anything on you (= do they have any information about you that can be used against you)?

More examples

  • He gave me a book on gardening for my birthday.
  • I've got nothing to say on the matter.
  • The second round of the quiz was on sport.
  • The committee published a hard-hitting report on the bank's management.
  • The committee voted on the proposal, and accepted it unanimously.

on preposition (MONEY)

A2 used to show something for which a payment is made:

He spent180 on a hat.
I've wasted a lot of money on this car.
We made a big profit on that deal.
How much interest are you paying on the loan?

More examples

  • He spent all his savings on an expensive car.
  • The council has some spare cash that it proposes to spend on public amenities.
  • Steven squandered his inheritance on a series of risky business ventures.
  • She made a lot of money on the sale of her house.
  • They decided to buy the car on credit.

on preposition (NECESSARY)

used to show a person or thing that is necessary for something to happen or that is the origin of something:

We're relying on you.
I might come - it depends on Andrew.
Most children remain dependent on their parents while they are at university.
His latest movie is based on a fairy tale.

More examples

  • On what basis did you make your decision?
  • The Republicans are relying on their agricultural policies to deliver the farmers' vote.
  • The meaning of a sentence often depends on stress and intonation.
  • He's either a hero or a villain, depending on your point of view.
  • Our success rests on an increase in sales.

on preposition (INVOLVEMENT)

used to show when someone is involved or taking part in something:

I'm working on a new book.
"Where had we got up to?" "We were on page 42."

More examples

  • I was on the final page of the book, when the phone rang.
  • The athletes are on last lap of the race.
  • "Is the shower fixed yet?" "I'm working on it".
  • I'm on duty until midnight.
  • I was still on my main course when everyone else was ordering dessert.

on preposition (FINANCIAL SUPPORT)

used to show what is providing financial support or an income:

I only have $70 a week to live on at the moment.
He retired on a generous pension from the company.
UK She's on (= earning) £25,000 a year.

More examples

  • She lived on £100 a week when she was a student.
  • Have you got enough to live on?
  • He gets by on a very modest salary.
  • New employees start on a basic salary of £25,000.
  • He's on commission only.

on preposition (FOOD/FUEL/DRUG)

B2 used to show something that is used as food, fuel, or a drug:

What do mice live on?
Does this radio run on batteries?
Is he on drugs?

More examples

  • My new car runs on diesel.
  • Some calculators run on solar power.
  • Does your car run on unleaded petrol?
  • The engine runs on high-octane petrol.
  • He had converted the motor so that it could run on vegetable oil.

on preposition (NEXT TO)

B1 next to or along the side of:

It's a small town on the Mississippi River.
Our house was on Sturton Street.
Strasbourg is on the border of France and Germany.

More examples

  • Negotiations between the two countries are on the brink of collapse.
  • A demilitarized zone has been created on the border between the warring countries.
  • A new coffee shop is opening on the high street.
  • The Aswan High Dam is on the river Nile in Egypt.
  • The shop front occupies a very prominent position on the main street.

on preposition (MEMBER)

C1 used to show when someone is a member of a group or organization:

Have you ever served on a jury?
There are no women on the committee.
How many people are on your staff?
UK She's a researcher on a women's magazine.

More examples

  • He has been rewarded for his 20 years of service with a seat on the board.
  • Police officers aren't usually allowed to serve on a jury.
  • Being on the committee is one involvement I could do without.
  • She is on the school's development committee.
  • He was was of the experts on a panel appointed to investigate the accident.

on preposition (AFTER)

happening after and usually because of:

Acting on information given to them anonymously, the police arrested him.
He inherited a quarter of a million pounds on his mother's death.
On their return they discovered that their house had been broken into.


uk /ɒn/ us /ɑːn/

on adverb (CONNECTED)

A2 on your body or someone's body:

It's very cold so put a coat on.
She wanders around the house with nothing on.
Can you remember what he had on (= was wearing)?
I tried on a few jackets, but none of them looked nice.

covering the surface of something or connected to something:

Screw the lid on tightly.
Surgeons managed to sew the finger back on.

More examples

  • She had on an orange skirt and pink tights.
  • Put your pyjamas on now, please.
  • I don't have any shoes on.
  • The cover was on the swimming pool at the time.
  • The bottle didn't have a lid on.

on adverb (OPERATING)

B2 used to show when something is operating or starting to operate:

Could you switch on the radio?
Would you turn the TV on?
You left the bedroom light on.

More examples

  • Don't forget to switch the boiler on when you arrive.
  • The lights are on, someone must be in.
  • You always leave the TV on when you go out!
  • Why hasn't the air conditioning come on?
  • Turn the power on by flicking this switch.

Thesaurus: synonyms and related words

On or off

You can also find related words, phrases, and synonyms in the topics:

on adverb (NOT STOPPING)

continuing or not stopping:

If her phone's busy, keep on trying.
Stop talking and get on with your work.
If Elise would just hang on (= wait) a little longer she'd definitely get the promotion.
The noise just went on and on (= continued for a long time), and I thought it would never stop.

More examples

  • I keep on thinking I've seen her before somewhere.
  • Hang on a minute - I'll be with you in a moment!
  • I'll leave you to get on then, shall I?
  • The instructor went on and on about the importance of safety.
  • She keeps going on about how tired she is.

on adverb (TRAVEL)

B1 into a bus, train, plane, etc., or in the correct position to start using some other method of travelling:

The train suddenly started moving as I was getting on.
Her horse galloped off as soon as she was on.

on adverb (PERFORMING)

C2 performing:

Hurry up with the make-up - I'm on in ten minutes.
The audience cheered as the band came on (= came onto the stage).

More examples

  • The orchestra came on to a warm round of applause.
  • What time are you due on?
  • The lights dimmed as the band came on.
  • His job is to warm the audience up before the main act comes on.
  • The headline act is due on at ten o'clock.

on adverb (MOVING FORWARD)

B2 continuing forward in time or space:

They never spoke to each other from that day on (= after that day).
What are you doing later on?
When you're done with it, would you pass it on to Paul?
UK Move on, please, and let the ambulance through.
UK You cycle on and I'll meet you there.

More examples

  • Keep your ticket - you'll need it later on.
  • Genes are the instructions by which parents' characteristics are passed on to their children.
  • I hear you've moved on to higher things.
  • You go on, I'll catch you up.
  • We drove on through a barren, rocky landscape.

on adverb (HAPPENING)

B2 happening or planned:

Is the party still on for tomorrow?
I'm busy tomorrow, but I've got nothing on the day after.
I've got a lot on at the moment.
Food had to be rationed when the war was on.
Are there any good movies on (= being shown) this week?

More examples

  • Is there anything good on at the theatre at the moment?
  • It's worth checking to see if the match is still on.
  • Having found a replacement venue, the concert is now back on.
  • Check the website to see what's on.
  • Are we still on for a game of tennis this afternoon?

on adverb (POSITION)

used when talking about the position of one thing compared with the position of another:

It's amazing nobody was injured because the two buses crashed head on (= the front parts of the buses hit each other).
UK The bike hit our car side on (= hit the side of the car rather than the front or back).
UK It would be easier to get the bookcase through the doorway if we turned it sideways on (= turned it so that one of its sides is at the front).

(Definition of “on” from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)

"on" in American English

See all translations

onpreposition, adverb [ not gradable ]

us /ɔn, ɑn/

on preposition, adverb [ not gradable ] (SUPPORTED BY)

supported by or resting at the top of another thing:

There is snow on the ground.
You put pudding in the pie crust and then put whipped cream on.

onpreposition, adjective, adverb [ not gradable ]

us /ɔn, ɑn/

on preposition, adjective, adverb [ not gradable ] (ATTACHED TO)

attached to or forming a part of another thing:

Read the instructions on the bag.
Hang your coat on that hook.
Don’t screw the lid on so tight.

on preposition, adjective, adverb [ not gradable ] (COVERING)

covering or wrapping another thing:

The child had no shoes on her feet.
You should put a coat on.
The baby’s got nothing on (= is not wearing anything).

on preposition, adjective, adverb [ not gradable ] (BROADCAST)

being broadcast:

What’s on TV tonight?
I wish there were more jazz on the radio.

on preposition, adjective, adverb [ not gradable ] (TRAVEL BY)

used to show a method of travel; via:

It’s easy to get to the beach on foot.
Two people rode by on horseback.

On is also sometimes used to show you are getting in a vehicle:

It’s time to get on the bus.


us /ɔn, ɑn/

on preposition (AT)

at, near, or next to a particular place, thing, or person:

They live on Carlisle Street.
Which page is that cheesecake recipe on?
El Paso is on the Mexican border.
Princess Caroline was seated on my left.

on preposition (STORED AS)

used to show the form in which information is stored or recorded for use with an electronic device:

How much data can you store on your hard disk?
That movie just came out on video.

on preposition (USING)

showing what tool, instrument, system, etc., is used to do or achieve something:

I made this chart on my computer.
I’m on the telephone.
You’ll cut yourself on that knife if you’re not careful.

on preposition (TAKING)

showing that a drug is taken or used:

My doctor put me on antibiotics.

on preposition (NEEDING HELP FROM)

used after some verbs and adjectives to show that help is needed from a person or thing:

We’re counting on you to drive us to the airport.

on preposition (EXISTING)

used to show that a condition or process exists or is being experienced:

The musicians are on strike.
Are winter coats on sale?

on preposition (INVOLVED IN)

involved in or doing a particular thing:

I’m working on a new book.
She’s on a diet.

On is also used to show that someone is doing something he or she was chosen to do:

There was a guard on duty.

on preposition (CONNECTED WITH)

connected with or part of a group or process:

Have you ever served on a jury?
There are two women on the committee.

on preposition (ABOUT)

about or having something as a subject:

Did you see that documentary on volcanoes last night?
Sarita’s thesis is on George Crumb.

on preposition (PAYING FOR)

showing that something is paid for or how something is paid for:

I’ve wasted a lot of money on this car.
Lunch is on me.

on preposition (WHEN)

used to show when something happens:

What are you doing on Friday?
My birthday’s on May 30th.
The flight arrived on time (= at the time it was expected).

on preposition (COMPARED WITH)

used to make a comparison:

This week’s sales figures are down on last week’s.
He’s got two inches on me (= is two inches taller).

on preposition (HAVING AN EFFECT)

used to show that something has happened to someone:

Marty is always playing jokes on people.
My car broke down on me this morning.

on preposition (POSSESSING)

possessing, carrying, or having something with you now:

Do you have any money on you?
I don’t have my driver’s license on me.

onadverb [ not gradable ]

us /ɔn, ɑn/

on adverb [ not gradable ] (NOT STOPPING)

continuing or not stopping:

If her line’s busy, keep on trying.

on adverb [ not gradable ] (TOWARD)

toward or to something or someone:

You go on and I’ll meet you at the lake.
Pass the newsletter on to Emily.

onadjective, adverb [ not gradable ]

us /ɔn, ɑn/

on adjective, adverb [ not gradable ] (OPERATING)

operating or made to start operating:

Would you turn the TV on?
The electricity hasn’t been turned back on yet.

infml Someone who is on is either performing very well or is in a situation where the person must be aware of everything that is happening and be ready to act:

Andy was really on last night – I haven’t heard him sing like that in months.

onadjective [ not gradable ]

us /ɔn, ɑn/

on adjective [ not gradable ] (HAPPENING)

happening or planned:

I have nothing on for tomorrow.
Is the party still on?

(Definition of “on” from the Cambridge Academic Content Dictionary © Cambridge University Press)