at the river/on the river

stephenlearner

Senior Member
Chinese
Hi,

Please look at the pictures.
Should I say they are fishing at the river or on the river? Thank you.


intinerary1-hero.jpg





OIPCFWAZC42.jpg
 
  • kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    They are fishing in the river.

    If they were in a boat, they would be on the river fishing.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    They are by the river.
    They are fishing in the river, or simply fishing the river. Note that whatever follows "fishing" usually describes where the fish are, not where they are.
     

    stephenlearner

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    How about this picture? Can I say "he is fishing in the river"?

    OIPYKZE3EL4.jpg


    And this one? Can I say "they are fishing in the river"?

    red-canyon-lodge-fly-fishing-from-a-boat-on-the-green-river.jpg
     

    stephenlearner

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    "He is fishing in the river", without context, can mean:
    1. He is by the river fishing.
    2. He is in the water fishing.

    IS there any other meaning?


    Can "He is on the river fishing" cause ambiguity?
    1. He is in a boat.
    2. He is by the river, on the bank of the river.
     

    stephenlearner

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    If I want to say where he is in relation to the river when he fishes, what should I say? Are these sentences below correct?
    1st picture: They are by the river fishing.
    2nd picture: He is by the river fishing.
    3rd picture: He is in the river fishing.
    4th picture: They are on the river fishing.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    If I want to say where he is in relation to the river when he fishes, what should I say? Are these sentences below correct?
    1st picture: They are by the river fishing.
    2nd picture: He is by the river fishing.
    3rd picture: He is in the river fishing.
    4th picture: They are on the river fishing.
    All of those are fine.
     

    stephenlearner

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    They are fishing in the river, or simply fishing the river. Note that whatever follows "fishing" usually describes where the fish are, not where they are.
    What does "in" mean in your sentence? Does it mean "in the area of river"? Or "in the river" does not mean “they" are in the river, but rather "they are catching fish which are in the river"?

    Similarly, can I say "they are fishing in the sea/ocean", whether they are by the sea/ocean or in a boat on the sea/ocean?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    What does "in" mean in your sentence? Does it mean "in the area of river"? Or "in the river" does not mean “they" are in the river, but rather "they are catching fish which are in the river"?
    The fish are in the river. I am sure what you understand is meant by this sentence, and "in" has exactly the same meaning in "they are fishing in the river".
    Similarly, can I say "they are fishing in the sea/ocean", whether they are by the sea/ocean or in a boat on the sea/ocean?
    Possibly. It would be fine if they are standing on land to fish in the sea, but it isn't the obvious expression to use for someone on a boat at sea, generally because as soon as a sea-going boat is involved, they cannot be fishing anywhere else other than the sea.
     

    stephenlearner

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    but it isn't the obvious expression to use for someone on a boat at sea, generally because as soon as a sea-going boat is involved, they cannot be fishing anywhere else other than the sea.
    I understand what you said as this: It's not good to say "they are fishing in the sea" because as soon as a sea-going boat is involved, they cannot be fishing anywhere else other than the sea. I can't understand the cause-effect or reason-result relationship. Could you elaborate on this, please?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Sentences don't exist in isolation. For someone to say "They are fishing" requires some context, perhaps it is the answer to a question.

    Perhaps "They are fishing" does not provide enough information, in which case you may add where they are by saying "by the old bridge", "in the river", "on the pier" or "in the sea". However, "in the sea" in this sentence suggests that they are standing on dry land.

    If they are fishing in a boat at sea, I cannot think of any situation where the most important thing to add to the clause "They are fishing" would be "at sea". Either it is superfluous because the other person knows they have a boat they often use for fishing, and "They are fishing" by itself means that they are out at sea in the boat. or if the other person doesn't know about the boat, then being in a boat becomes the most important thing: "They are out in a boat" or "They are out fishing in a boat".
     

    stephenlearner

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    or if the other person doesn't know about the boat, then being in a boat becomes the most important thing: "They are out in a boat" or "They are out fishing in a boat".
    Yes, I agree that "being in a boat" is very important, but knowing that they are out fishing in a boat, in my opinion, is not enough, because they might be on a river or on a lake or at sea.
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, I agree that "being in a boat" is very important, but knowing that they are out fishing in a boat, in my opinion, is not enough, because they might be on a river or on a lake or at sea.
    If the context does not make it clear, then it can be added. "They're in a boat on the river" or They're out at sea". The point is that I cannot think of any situation where you would say "They are fishing in the sea" when they are fishing from a boat rather than fishing from the shore or a pier.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    There seems to be lack of logic in English. I guess these buildings are on the river, aren't they? Or are they in the river?

    1653151831151.png
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    There seems to be lack of logic in English.
    In post #16 and #18, you are using different meanings of the word "on". That isn't "lack of logic". That is "multiple meanings".

    on - WordReference.com Dictionary of English

    Post #16 uses prepositional meaning number 7: "very close to; at the edge of"

    Post #18 uses the most common prepositional meaning of "on", which is "on top of". For liquids, we use on to mean "in the air, touching the top surface of the liquid" as opposed to in which means "(partially or completely) below the surface of the liquid".

    I suspect that many languages have multiple precise definitions for a word.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Isn't it confusing? If you hear someone spent a nice weekend in a hotel on the river, how do you know whether the hotel was located literally on the river or on its bank? Polish would use two different prepositons, that is "by the river" vs. "on the river".
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There seems to be lack of logic in English. I guess these buildings are on the river, aren't they? Or are they in the river?

    View attachment 71792
    Those buildings are very unusual in Britain. If the buildings were, let's say, a hotel. I would tell my friends, "I stayed in a hotel that floats on a river."

    If the hotel was on the river bank, I would say "I stayed at a riverside hotel"
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    Isn't it confusing?
    No. If you are talking about where a hotel building is located, then meaning 7 ("very near") is standard. If a speaker wants to express something unusual, they will say something different. Post #21 suggests "floating on a river".

    Note that a hotel "floating on a river" is unlikely. Only small buildings float on a river -- buildings like the ones pictured in #18 (which are not a hotel), not the larger building in #16.

    Some hotels are located over water. They are not supported by the water. They are supported by long poles sunk into the ground beneath the water. That situation uses "over" or "above", not "on".
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Speaking of the hotel in #16, does "by the river" work or does it sound completely off?
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    And does the distance to a river/lake matter when picking 'by' or 'on'? Does "on" imply a closer distance than "by"?

    1653332981185.png
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    In general, both "by" and "on" require the building to be immediately adjacent to the river (or whatever it is). With "by the sea" ("on the sea" is not possible), a lot more flexibility is allowed. If the water in your picture is the sea, then both arrows could point to buildings that in some situations might be called "by the sea". If the water is a river, then neither of the buildings is "by the river" or "on the river". Where both "by" and "on" are possible, then there is very little difference between them, but I think "on" is far less used.
     

    kentix

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    "On" is very commonly used here in relation to real estate. Being "on" the water, generally any kind of water, is a selling point.

    A vacation house on the lake might be many people's dream. (What that means is the property line goes right down to the water.) A cabin on the river is more desirable, and more expensive, than a cabin back from the river. A restaurant on the river will likely draw more customers than a restaurant not within sight of the river, everything else being equal.

    37981510.jpg
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    And would there be any context in which we'd say a building was at a river/lake?
    If the river/lake name was used as a geographical location, you could drive "to" that location, or park your car "at" that location. For example:

    Some friends of mine have a summer cabin at Lake Sebago (Maine, US). There is no nearby town, so the name of the lake describes the location.

    I could also use by in that sentence. I might even say on, since it is a lakefront property. So the property is "on" the lake, even though the building is only "by" or "near" the lake.

    (cross-posted)
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    So a building can be located on/by a river, while people might have fun at a river. Correct?
     

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    What was she doing? "At" is not a particularly common preposition to use, but without knowing what she had been doing it is pointless trying to discuss the merits of "at" or "by", or even "on".
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    American English (New England and NYC)
    If the river/lake name was used as a geographical location, you could drive "to" that location, or park your car "at" that location. For example:

    Some friends of mine have a summer cabin at Lake Sebago (Maine, US). There is no nearby town, so the name of the lake describes the location.

    I could also use by in that sentence. I might even say on, since it is a lakefront property. So the property is "on" the lake, even though the building is only "by" or "near" the lake.

    (cross-posted)
    Agreed. And also because the lake is more famous than the six towns that border it. :cool:
    Saying that your friends have a summer camp in Windham conveys nothing about their being on or near the lake.
     

    zaffy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    See posts 26 and 30.
    I did and as for buildings, all is clear to me. Yet I'm still confused about which prepostion I use when talking about humans and their activities in the vicinity of a river/lake. Take a look at these two pictures please. How can I describe them? For example,

    We had a great bonfire at/on/by a river last weekend.
    I spent the whole afternoon sitting on a blanket at/on/by a river.




    1653458874024.png
     

    Chasint

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I did and as for buildings, all is clear to me. Yet I'm still confused about which preposition I use when talking about humans and their activities in the vicinity of a river/lake. Take a look at these two pictures please. How can I describe them? For example,

    We had a great bonfire at/on/by a river last weekend.
    I spent the whole afternoon sitting on a blanket at/on/by a river.
    The choice of preposition depends very much on context. If you say you are "at" a location, it means that you have arrived there.

    Examples (phone conversations)

    - Where are you?
    - I'm at a river (This implies that you are travelling and have reached a river - probably unexpectedly. The river may be blocking your way. You may have stopped for refreshments. You intend to leave shortly)

    - Where are you?
    - I'm at the river (This implies that both parties have discussed this particular river and know that it is part of a journey. In this case it could be anywhere along the route, including the final destination).

    - Where are you?
    - I'm on a/the river (This suggests that you are in a boat)

    - Where are you?
    - I'm by a river (This suggests that you have encountered a river and have decided to stay there for a while)

    - Where are you?
    - I'm by the river (This says that you have reached a planned destination and have a purpose there. For instance you might want to blow up a bridge or have a picnic)
     
    Last edited:
    In AE, referring to locations near bodies of water, we often use "at" to mean "in the vicinity of" and "on" to mean "directly beside".

    He spent his vacation at the beach. = He stayed at a beach resort. His hotel might or might not be directly on the beach.
    He spent his vacation at a hotel on the beach. = He stayed in a hotel that fronted directly onto the beach. In this context, "on" does not mean "built on the sand of the beach".

    The words "riverfront", "lakefront" and "oceanfront" are often used to describe a building that is directly beside the water.

    Last night, we ate at a lakefront restaurant. The sunset over the water was beautiful.

    In beach resorts, oceanfront apartments and hotel rooms are much more desirable and expensive than those that don't face directly onto the sea.
     
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