Ask the Editor
"In the suburbs" vs. "on the outskirts"
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
A reader asked about the difference between the expressions “in the suburbs" and "on the outskirts.”
suburb vs. outskirts
The main difference between these two expressions is the difference between the nouns suburb and outskirts. As you can see in the Learner's Dictionary entries shown below, a suburb is a town near a larger city, where people typically live in houses with yards rather than apartment buildings. Suburbs are also associated with a lifestyle oriented around families with children.
on vs. in
You may wonder why "in the suburbs" uses the preposition in and "on the outskirts" uses the preposition on. The most helpful way to think about this is that a suburb is an area with a border around it, so you can be in it (inside the border). The outskirts are more like a line around an area, and it makes more sense to say on a line, than in it.
I hope this helps.
Learner's Dictionary entries
suburb: a town or other area where people live in houses near a larger city
outskirts [plural]: the parts of a city or town that are far from the center