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Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
The difference between "in the way" and"on the way"
Friday March 22nd 2013
Question
The difference between "in the way" and"on the way"
Answer

Question

What is the difference between "in the way" and "on the way"? In what contexts are they used? –Adrien, Ukraine

Answer

Although they look similar, "in the way” and “on the way” have surprisingly different meanings and uses. 

 

In the way

“In the way” is used to describe something that blocks or prevents something else from happening, or makes it more difficult. It has a negative connotation. For example, if you tried unsuccessfully to move a desk to the other side of a room, you might say, “I tried to move the desk to the other side of the room, but the bookshelf was in the way.” 

“In the way” can also be used for difficult situations with people, as in these examples: 

  • We have important issues to deal with, but these petty arguments keep getting in the way. 
  • I left because I felt that I was just in their way.  


On the way

“On the way” is used to talk about things that are in progress. It has no negative (or positive) connotation. If you are talking about the weather, you might say, “Snow is on the way.” If you are talking about something that you did while you were going to the market, you might say, “On the way to the market I decided to stop at the bank.” Below are some other examples with “on the way.” Notice how possessives (my, your, its, etc.) can be used in place of the.

  • More layoffs are said to be on the way. [=more layoffs will happen soon]
  • The package should be on its way. 
  • A funny thing happened to me on my/the way here. [=while I was traveling here] 
  • I have to run a few errands on my way home. 



I hope this helps. 

 

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