Stand on Line or in Line?

Are you standing in line or standing on line? It depends on where you live. 

Mignon Fogarty


One regionalism that jumps out at me every time I visit New York is how people there say they stand on line instead of saying they stand in line.

It’s not limited to New York City either. Dialect researchers have found that people also say they stand on line in other parts of the East Coast including New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and parts of Philadelphia.

Stand on line is a regionalism most common in the northeast part of the United States.

Stand on line does appear to be newer than stand in line, and as far as I can tell, nobody knows why people started using on instead of in. The phrase starts appearing in Google Books in the late 1800s—mostly to describe what children in schools did during roll call or while they were being punished. For example, here’s a line from an 1886 book called the Life of the Right Reverend John Barrett Kerfoot, First Bishop of Pittsburgh.

“The school-day began early—at five o’clock in summer, and at quarter before six in winter. A pleasant-toned, sonorous bell aroused us, and after eight minutes we were expected to be in the school-room, to stand on line in an assigned order and to answer to our names.”

The next time you visit the northern East Coast, see if you hear people talking about standing on line, and if you’re from the East Coast and traveling elsewhere, now you know why you occasionally get funny looks when you talk about standing on line: it highlights that you’re from somewhere else.

Stand on line is a regionalism most common in the northeast part of the United States.


Image courtesy of Shutterstock


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of the Quick and Dirty Tips network and creator of Grammar Girl, which has been named one of Writer's Digest's 101 best websites for writers multiple times. The Grammar Girl podcast has also won Best Education Podcast multiple times in the Podcast Awards, and Mignon is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame. Mignon is the author of the New York Times best-seller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing" and six other books on writing. She has appeared as a guest on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" and the "Today Show" and has been featured in the New York Times, Business Week, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more. She was previously the chair of media entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism in Reno, NV. She hates the phrase "grammar nazi" and loves the word "kerfuffle." She has a B.A. in English from the University of Washington in Seattle and an M.S. in biology from Stanford University. Mignon believes that learning is fun, and the vast rules of grammar are wonderful fodder for lifelong study. 

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