Preposition: at/by/on the sea

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Thomas1, Jul 23, 2008.

  1. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    Hello, :)

    I am a bit at sea as to which preposition should be used with sea meaning situated in the vicinity of a sea/bording a sea.

    I have run into the following sentence:

    A country of north-central Europe on the Baltic Sea.

    Perhaps this is just my far-reaching imagination but I can’t resist the impression that the country in question (Lithuania) is physically on the surface of the Baltic Sea.

    My question is:
    Can on be replaced by at and/or by in the sample sentence please?
    A country of north-central Europe at the Baltic Sea.
    A country of north-central Europe by the Baltic Sea.

    Input appreciated.

  2. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    At the sea ... sounds odd.
    At the seaside ... OK.
    At sea ... meaning on a ship out there on the water, OK.

    By the sea ...
    Bill has a cottage by the sea.

    On the sea ...
    There are lots of UK towns that include "-on-sea" as part of their name.
    Talking about a person being on the sea sounds odd, but a town or place on the sea is beside the sea, not on top of it :)
    So a country on the Baltic Sea doesn't sound strange to me, whereas to say that a country was at the sea or by the sea would sound very odd.
  3. srta chicken

    srta chicken Senior Member

    US English
    I agree with Panjandrum.

    Nonetheless, there ia a city in California is called "Carmel by the Sea."

  4. Thomas1

    Thomas1 Senior Member

    polszczyzna warszawska
    OK, so I guess I'd have to come round to on the sea. ;) Is saying that on the sea/ocean/lake is generally used with places like countries/cities/towns/villages, etc. true?

    Some follow-up questions:
    I like to cry at the ocean because only there do my tears seem small.
    I have just watched the Simpsons episode and one of the characters, Nelson, says this sentence. He’s wading through the ocean along a beach. Does at the ocean sound odd in this context?

    Would Bill has a cottage by the sea. work with on?
    Bill has a cottage on the sea.

  5. sound shift

    sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
  6. bouncy.bouncy Senior Member

    WA, USA
    American/British English
    "At the sea" just doesn't work in this context. If somebody used that phrase when talking to me, I would be confused because "at" is too generic to be used there.

    "By the sea" works for a city or other small entity. Using "by," to me, inherently means that the object of the preposition (the sea) is the important, immobile, entity, and the main noun is the small, almost "temporary" and "mobile" entity. I might even say that a city is dependent on something else (the country) to be considered "by" the sea.

    However, a country is a large entity itself, and is only bordered by the sea on one side. It can't be "by" the sea because it's important, permanent, and immobile--it is the foundation of all land entities, short of a continent (which would be a different case because it's surrounded by water). If one must use just a preposition and no comprehensive sentence (e.g. "Lithuania is bordered by the Baltic Sea to the West, Latvia to the North, etc.") to describe its location, "on" is just best out of those three.

    It's a complex idea, and I might not have made any sense, but that's just how it works in my mind.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2008
  7. Monkey F B I Senior Member

    Acton, MA
    English - USA
    I suppose maybe if it's a house-boat...

    For the original question about Lithuania, you really have to use "on the sea". You could describe a house or a small town as being "by the sea". I don't really think you could use "at the sea" anywhere.

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