Usage and Grammar
Q. What is the rule for correct usage of “drive” and “ride”? I was trying to explain this difference to a non-English-speaking colleague, but it appears somewhat illogical on the basis of normal usage.
A. Sometimes new technologies force us into analogies. Perhaps people ride bicycles because they rode horses—particularly at the time bicycles first became popular. Likewise, one is said to ride a motorcycle—sometimes called a steel horse—more often than one is said to drive it. Cars, once called horseless carriages, are said to marshal the power of many horses, and, just as one is said to drive a team of horses, one is said to drive a car. The distinction between drive and ride doesn’t seem consistently to depend on whether the driver or the rider provides any locomotion. There are better (worse?) examples of words that persist on the basis of analogy: how often do we dial a phone or ring up a sale anymore?