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Jane Mairs, Director of English language Learning Publishing
"In the suburbs" vs. "on the outskirts"
Wednesday April 25th 2012
"In the suburbs" vs. "on the outskirts"


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.

The word outskirts, which is always plural, refers to the edges of a community. There are outskirts around a city, and these might be suburbs or they might not. There are also outskirts around the edges of a small town.

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
        ▪ She left the city and moved to the suburbs. [=one of the suburbs near that city]
   often + of
        ▪ I grew up in a suburb of Denver.

outskirts [plural]: the parts of a city or town that are far from the center
        ▪ We live on the outskirts of town.

Chilly Illustration