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Using in, on & at Prepositions in English

CEO Tinh Phung
If you've ever learned English online, you know that using prepositions can be quite tricky. It can feel illogical or absurd when prepositions are used differently from what we're used to in our native language....

If you've ever learned English online, you know that using prepositions can be quite tricky. It can feel illogical or absurd when prepositions are used differently from what we're used to in our native language. But fear not! In English, there are specific guidelines for using the prepositions 'in', 'on', and 'at' in different situations. These guidelines will help you use the right preposition every time! So, keep reading to learn more or discover online English grammar classes on Preply.

How to Use In, On, and At Prepositions

Two of the most common contexts in which 'in', 'on', and 'at' are used involve identifying where someone or something is (place) and when something happened (time). Let's break down when to use these prepositions in different situations of time and place.

In, On & At as Prepositions of Place

in on at prepositions of place

  • at: used for very specific points, locations, or places
    • I'm working at the bakery.
    • The shop is at 455 Main Street.
    • Someone is at the door.
  • on: used for surfaces
    • The painting is on the wall.
    • Her ring is on her middle finger.
    • Do you like anything on the menu?
    • Exceptions: general street names and close to a river
      • I live on Grove Street.
      • The restaurant is on the river.
  • in: used for enclosed spaces or general areas with borders or boundaries
    • She has a penny in her pocket.
    • I left my wallet in the car.
    • The children are in the garden.
    • They live in New York City.
    • I'm staying in France this summer.
    • Note: When referring to buildings or confined areas, both "at" and "in" can be used, depending on the context. If you want to describe the general location, use "at." For example, "Mary is at the school." But if you want to emphasize being inside the building or area, use "in." For instance, "Mary is in the school."

In, On & At as Prepositions of Time

How much time do you need to prepare for the IELTS?

  • at: used for specific times
    • Hours/minutes of the day
    • Times of the day (e.g., dawn, midnight, noon, sunrise, bedtime)
    • We'll meet you at 6 o'clock.
    • The show starts at 4:45.
    • I hate driving at night.
  • on: used for specific days and dates
    • Dates
    • Days of the week
    • Weekends*
    • Holidays*
    • Birthdays
    • The party is on May 5th.
    • They work out on Mondays.
    • I relax on the weekend.
    • He left on Christmas day.
    • We met on Easter.
    • I cried on my birthday.
  • in: used for more general times
    • Months
    • Seasons
    • Years
    • Centuries
    • Time periods
    • Past/Future
    • Future times
    • Exception for times of day: morning, afternoon, evening
    • I saw him in August.
    • We ski a lot in the winter.
    • You graduated in 2005.
    • She grew up in the 90s.
    • It was cold in the Ice Age.
    • He was angrier in the past.
    • I'll meet with you in an hour.
    • It was dark in the morning.
    • I eat dinner in the evening.
  • Note:
    • In American English, the preposition "on" is used with weekends and holidays. However, in British English and other varieties, the preposition "at" can be used with weekends and holidays. Learn more about this below.

Preposition Switching in American and British English

As mentioned earlier, one difference between American and British grammar is the use of "in", "on", and "at" prepositions. Here are some examples to help you feel confident using them regardless of the type of English you choose to learn:

  • On and at:

    • American English: Will you visit on the weekend?
    • British English: Will you visit at the weekend?
  • In and for:

    • American English: I haven't visited in years!
    • British English: I haven't visited for years!
  • In and at:

    • American English: I study law in school.
    • British English: I study law at school.

These distinctions will help you sound more like a native speaker, whether in Britain or the US. However, keep in mind that as Brits consume a lot of American media, they'll understand what you mean even if you get confused.

At Last, You Know Your In, On, and At Prepositions!

Now that you've learned the various contexts in which 'in', 'at', and 'on' prepositions are used for time and place, you can confidently use them in your speech and writing. But if you still feel unsure, don't worry! Preply English tutors are here to help. With personalized learning plans, flexible schedules, and many more benefits, you can easily find the perfect tutor. No more guessing or fretting - your English will improve now!

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