Preposition: Go <by, on> foot, bus, train, plane, bike, car, ...

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Oros, Jul 11, 2006.

  1. Oros Senior Member

    Korean
    The force of the blasts ripped doors and windows off carriages and scattered luggage and debris.
    [...]

    "There were so many [injured people], I couldn't really count," Sunny Jain said.
    "There are not enough ambulances and many people are making their own way to the station. They are coming in taxis and by foot."
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    We always say go on foot. Here it is go by foot. Is it fine?

     
  2. Kelly B

    Kelly B Senior Member

    USA English
    I think you are correct - go by foot sounds odd to me. I'd say go on foot.
     
  3. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Some native speakers actually use "to go by foot", but the correct preposition is "on" (to go on foot), whereas "by" is used with means of transport such as trains, planes and automobiles (to go by car, by train, by plane...).
     
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I agree that on foot sounds better than by foot, but I have to say that by foot is used often, very often ...
     
  5. Paulfromitaly

    Paulfromitaly MODerator

    Brescia (Italy)
    Italian
    I can assure you that plenty of Italian speakers would say "by foot" and, although I'm used now to saying "on foot", I'm quite sure that I'd been taught to say "byt foot" at school.
     
  6. roxcyn

    roxcyn Senior Member

    USA
    American English [AmE]
    Okay so I went to blingo and did a search (which uses google search)

    "By foot":
    Andover-Harvard Library - Directions - by Foot http://www.blingo.com/images/newwindow.gif
    Directions by Foot. Walking from Harvard Square. The library is approximately a
    15-minute walk from Harvard Square. These directions originate from the ...
    (FROM HARVARD UNIVERSITY!!!)

    303 000 search results when I searched "by foot" (with the quotes)

    1 420 000 results when I searched "on foot" (wit the quotes)

    Two Minn residents reach North Pole on foot http://www.blingo.com/images/newwindow.gif
    PhysOrg news: Two Minn residents reach North Pole on foot.

    So, I would say that both have to be right. How could some "scholar" of the Harvard university use by foot? ;) I am kidding. Actually I think I would use "on foot", however "by foot" sounds okay to me.
     
  7. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Would "by foot" be more common in American English? I think that, in British English (and I don't know about Ireland), "on foot" is far more common and generally considered correct, as opposed to the use of "by".
     
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
  9. heidita Senior Member

    Madrid, Spain
    Germany (German, English, Spanish)
    I am really surprised, as I normally teach this as a mistake. The Official School of Languages in Madrid frequently includes this question in multiple choices and by foot is not considered to be correct.
     
  10. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I sympathise.
    My hesitation was based on the number of reputable links I found that used "by foot":eek:
     
  11. la reine victoria Senior Member

    This question could be solved by saying "going by Shanks's pony".

    Seriously, I would use "on foot", but it's far more natural to say, "I'm walking."




    LRV
     
  12. heidita Senior Member

    Madrid, Spain
    Germany (German, English, Spanish)
    This is rather used in multiple choices like :by bike, by train, by plane, but on foot

    Yes I agree, your Majesty, I shall walk is more natural.
     
  13. chenkd New Member

    china chinese
    I think this is the issue concerning the formal and informal use of English. In any textbook and on any English class, " on foot" is presented. I even remembered once I was teseted on this when I chose mistakenly " by foot" and got wrong.(This kind of tests are often conducted when we begin to learn English in China, called "choosing the right prep.") But in daily life, if you use "by foot", I don't think it will cause any problems. And I agree with the more natural expression " I am walking."
     
  14. roxcyn

    roxcyn Senior Member

    USA
    American English [AmE]
    That's why multiple tests can be difficult. They do not account for other answers or explainations. Like the on/by foot ;). But let's say that it is "on" foot for those exams (because we do want to get the "right" answer), but in real-life situations (even with scholar-sources such as Harvard), someone could use either.
     
  15. jimreilly Senior Member

    Minneapolis
    American English
    How long does this thread have to continue before we realize that this is one of those cases where "correct" English (defined at some past time) is one thing and actual usage is often another.

    This past Sunday I went by foot from my house to the Alliance Française downtown to watch the World Cup match. Maybe if I had gone downtown on foot France would have won?

    The point is, common usage includes both on foot and by foot.

    There are also two ways to go by bicycle: by bicyle, or on a bicycle. And on can go by train, or on a train. (Pesky little "a" there--only a one-footed person would go downtown on a foot). One does also hear "I got there by/on my own two feet". And so forth.....English is confusing, "correct" or any other way, but it certainly is alive.
     
  16. heidita Senior Member

    Madrid, Spain
    Germany (German, English, Spanish)
    I wonder why you specifically quote me as several other forers say exactly the same thing.

    Well, anyway, I understood that the German forer was asking if by foot was ok or not.

    I do not think that on this forum we have any doubt that in any language you may use certain expressions and that they are actually widely used in colloquial language. So colloquially it would be ok.

    But I do not think it is a good idea not to state that in a test or alike, by foot would be grammatically incorrect , as surely the student would get a fail for that usage.

    And correct English is still defined as such, if you have to learn it from scratch. You can only learn by usage the different nuances to a foreign language.
     
  17. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    I think it is important not to mislead contributors seeking simple answers to simple questions, and who may be learners of English (as a foreign language, to them), and who may also be sitting exams.

    And there is such a thing as "correct" and "incorrect" use of language. To deny that there is such a thing would mean that you can write anything you like, in any situation. This may be an appealing (and egotistical) idea on an intellectual level, but it is plainly not true, in practice. If it were the case, why do newspapers employ small armies of sub-editors and proofreaders? Then again, of course, any language evolves continuously.

    To go back to the question, even though there may be instances where people say "by foot", it does appear important to me to accept that "on foot" is regarded as the correct form, and the only one. And this is true of all TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) tests too.
     
  18. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    As I said earlier, the normal usage is on foot; by foot is somewhat unusual. In this case I don't think there is any grammatical reason for preferring on to by. Of course, I wouldn't have come across any grammatical "rule" on this point and I wasn't able to find one yesterday when I searched.

    Can anyone explain why on is better than by?
    Or is it only a matter of "that's the way we say it".
     
  19. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Panj,
    You are right in that sense - I would not say it is intrinsically "better". "Correct" merely means that, in general usage (and as far as exams are concerned...), "on" is deemed Ok and "by" is deemed wrong... A lot of language is indeed based on the "that's the way we say it" rule, insofar as usage plays a part - and it inevitably (and rightly) does.
     
  20. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Thanks James:)
    I suppose that my own personal problem is that I like there to be some rationale for the usage - and especially if it comes to something that will be marked wrong in an English exam.

    Maybe by is an abbreviated version of by means of - or some similar construction that requires an external transport thing.
     
  21. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Panj,
    In some cases, the "correct" usage can be derived from the origin (real or imaginary) of the word (or expression) - this etymological factor also needs to be taken into account, not that I think it applies here. In some cases too, the grammar "rule" may have been set by linguists and grammarians quite late in the day, if only because there was a desire to "streamline" the language - so, inevitably, much of all this is not rational! As for ON Vs BY here, I do not know the answer, if there is one...

    PS When you read a play by Shakespeare in the original English, you realize how haphazard spelling, in particular, was at the time, by today's standards at any rate...
     
  22. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    I agree with those who say on/by foot are both correct. On foot is far more common,but b foot is used from time to time. Of course to walk has the same meaning but,I think the nuances are different.
     
  23. Sallyb36

    Sallyb36 Senior Member

    Liverpool UK
    British UK
    I think they are equally interchangeable
     
  24. la reine victoria Senior Member



    Only that, as James said in an earlier post, when you go by something it involves a form of transport - car, bus, train, boat. Something which doesn't involve walking.

    When you are walking it follows that you are on foot, using your own energy (power) to get you to your destination. You aren't sitting or lying down, you are on your feet.



    LRV
     
  25. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    It is important that we take care in situations like this not to mislead students of English.

    It is very clear that they need to use on foot, not by foot.
    It is easy to find examples of tests on the internet where by foot is being marked wrong.

    What I was looking for was some kind of rationale for our preference, not a defence for the rule:)

    @James,
    We agree.
    Somewhere down the forum there is an explanation (given by someone else) that the rules of English grammar were formulated as guidelines for teachers in the 1800s based on what was at that time considered to be educated usage. Most were not intended to be applied in all circumstances for all time.
    If I have time, I'll look for the reference:)
     
  26. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    It is obvious that grammar rules are, up to a point, conventions - and it can be a fine line between usage and what is referred to as grammar. Having said all that, and even if grammer rules are mere conventions, up to a point at any rate, it does not make them less valid, so long as one accepts that certain conventions are desirable in any form of organized society. (E.g.: Belching loudly in a smart restaurant - or, rather, not being expected to - is a convention; yet, many, in the context of a western society at any rate, would find this convention rather appropriate and welcome.)

    PS I know we agreed on this one, Panj.
    PPS For once.:D
     
  27. jimreilly Senior Member

    Minneapolis
    American English
     
  28. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    In the sense of traveling, both “on foot” and “by foot” are correct.
    This usage is recognized by most dictionaries:

    Concise Oxford Dictionary (9th Ed.—not available online)
    foot v.tr. 1 (usu. as foot it) a traverse (esp. a long distance) by foot. b dance.

    American Heritage Dictionary
    v. tr. 1. To go by foot over, on, or through; tread.

    WordNet (r) 1.7
    By foot, or On foot, by walking; as, to pass a stream on foot.
     
  29. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    You could be right but the fact remains that most people - including people setting exam papers in TEFL, for learners of English as a secnd language - view "on foot" as better and more correct...

    The problem with dictionaries, more so than ever, is that they have moved from a prescriptive focus (what should be) to a descriptive angle (what is). This may be good, but it can muddy the waters. So, are the dictionaries saying that "by foot" is OK because many people use it, and they are just acknowledging (limited) usage? I am not saying this is what is going on here, but it could be.

    Conversally, dictionaries advise against using certain words in the name of political correctness ("has become offensive and is best avoided") - in other words, dictionary writers feel free to give prescriptive advice on social issues and the social use of language, as opposed to purely linguistic issues... Odd, come to think of it.

    However, some may confirm that this is not what is happening here and that "by foot" has been used/approved of since the days of Henry VIII or whatever...
     
  30. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    My young son just read My Little Isand in which the author writes "When we get to town, the sun is just peeking over the mountaintops, but people from nearby villages are already arriving by bus, by donkey, by foot!"

    "By" seems to work very well in that sentence.
     
  31. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    I think it only works 'by association" the other instances of 'by'.

    I'm not sure about the grammatical credentials of the sentence as I am slightly stirred by the "When we get … the sun is peeking …"
     
  32. hqindia New Member

    English
    Go, Run and Walk - no body says run by foot, or walk by foot. Though some people use go by foot, but that is not correct. It should be go on foot.
     
  33. mhp Senior Member

    American English
    The interesting thing about the citations from the Oxford and the American Heritage dictionaries is that they do not explicitly acknowledge the widespread use of “to go/travel by foot”, but rather they use it in the text of the definition of the verb “to foot”. This either makes the authors somewhat careless if this usage is not acceptable, or it could be that the authors consider it to be perfectly acceptable formal English.
     
  34. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I share your concern about this - but if you hunt around some of the online ESL tests, you'll find that there are plenty of multiple choice questions that mark "by foot" wrong.
    Hence the cautions posted here and there in this thread.

    The mystery for me is, why is "by foot" considered by some to be incorrect?
     
  35. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    You could argue that "by + means of transport" is based on the idea that the said means of transport is external to the person (by car, by boat, etc.) whereas "on + foot" merely states that we move around on our own two feet. But this may well be a reconstructed explanation that appears more or less logical, i.e. a justification "ex-post" as opposed to an etymologically correct interpretation based on the origin of the phrase!

    There is clearly an issue of usage, but that in itself is not a satisfactory explanation from a logical standpoint - then again, language is rarely entirely rationally constructed... Other contributors may know of a precise reason behind "by" Vs "on" here.
     
  36. A90Six Senior Member

    London
    England - English.
    My thoughts:

    Could it be that by identifies the mode of transport used, and on (or in) substitutes the verb; what one actually did to get somewhere:
    • I went on foot. I walked/ran. (I think foot here should be considered plural, which is why it does not take a, as in three foot long/six foot tall/300 foot (soldiers).
    • I went on a horse. I rode.
    • I went on a bike. I rode.
    • I went in a car. I drove/I was driven.
    • I went on a train. I rode(?).
    • I went on a plane. I flew/I was flown.
     
  37. Feppisher Senior Member

    Inglese, US
    On foot. At least in American usage. But the difference is slight and even a purist might not notice the boo boo.

    So slight that I'm starting to doubt now there's any real difference. :)

    Or maybe I'm just tired.
     
  38. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    To go somewhere on foot, meaning on one's two feet: there are many examples of the singular being used when a plural is meant/implied in English.

    Eg It was delivered by hand (which one?)
    Eg Tony, Peter and Brian met face to face last week for the first time (how many faces? 3)
    Eg The lion is a ferocious animal (generic singular => the species => lions in general)

    But this does not explain why "on" instead of "by"... "By" may relate to "by a certain means of transport".
     
  39. heidita Senior Member

    Madrid, Spain
    Germany (German, English, Spanish)
    What I find surprising is that not even natives agree on the use of by foot/on foot.

    As Panjandrum has underlined, as far as I know, ALL multiple choice tests I am aware of (tests taken in Germany, Spain an even England!) point out by foot as an incorrect answer.
     
  40. maxiogee Senior Member

    imithe
    Because teacher says so! Don't argue!

    Alongside A90Six's argument for "on" I would put this.
    Could "by' be the equivalent of "by way of"?
    - we went by road (as against over the fields)
    - we went by sea (as against overland)
     
  41. Celador

    Celador Senior Member

    Glasgow
    English / Scotland
    Go by feet ? Unless you intend to hop, maybe...
     
  42. ireney

    ireney Modistra

    U.S.A.
    Greek Greece
    While I don't really have a problem (I don't think I've ever used 'by' since my teachers made sure that "on foot" was rammed through my memory and all the way to the panicky-automatic-reply section of my brain since we use 'with' in Greek for all means of transportation including one's own feet) the whole discussion is very interesting

    this site, quoting a book I think (just skipped through most of the page), says that it's a matter of not using any means.


    this discussion offers some interesting ideas too.
     
  43. heidita Senior Member

    Madrid, Spain
    Germany (German, English, Spanish)
    Ireney, very interesting links.

    I have found this

    Celador, but we do not say go on feet either.

    Well, I have after all found these

    Resultados 1 - 10 de aproximadamente 217 de "go ...by feet".
    Resultados 1 - 10 de aproximadamente 304 de "go ...on feet".

    I think the plural doesn't work. Does it?
    Would you use it?
     
  44. la reine victoria Senior Member



    I wouldn't use it, Heidi. :)



    Regards,
    LRV
     
  45. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    One has to be sensible, here. If you say something like, "I always go to the supermarket on my feet, because it's not too far and I don't need to drive there," I believe the average British person would simply think one of three things: (a) She can't speak English; (b) She's bonkers; (c) She's both - unless she's a spider or something, and likes to stress the fact she has 8 of them...:p
     
  46. Celador

    Celador Senior Member

    Glasgow
    English / Scotland

    Except, for example:
    • After a brief illness he was back on his feet.
     
  47. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Yes, but that's an idiomatic expression. Try and say, in regular conversation: "I went to the pub by (my) feet yesterday." It may elicit a response such as: "How many have you got, then?" Or: "Yours or someone else's - since some of us like to be carried around on someone else's plates of meat." Etc.
     
  48. Celador

    Celador Senior Member

    Glasgow
    English / Scotland
    I entirely accept your point about "being back on one's feet" being an idiomatic expression, but so too is "by/on foot", when what one actually means is the use of both feet:
    • Once I'm back on my feet I'll visit you on foot (beign no mean feat, since you live at the other foot of the mountain).
     
  49. James Brandon

    James Brandon Senior Member

    Greater London (UK)
    English + French - UK
    Being no mean feet, you mean?:D
     
  50. Celador

    Celador Senior Member

    Glasgow
    English / Scotland
    No mean feat, i.e. a remarkable deed (from Fr. "fait", I think)... ;)
     

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