Stand on Line or in Line?

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

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read


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 Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.

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