Prepositions of time and place are words that are used to indicate the relationship between a noun or pronoun and other words in a sentence. In English, the most commonly used prepositions of time and place are “at,” “in,” and “on.”
Prepositions of Time and Place At – In – On
AT, IN and ON are used as both time prepositions and place prepositions in English.
When English speakers talk about time and place, there are three little words that often come up: in, on, and at. These common words are prepositions that show a relationship between two words in a sentence.
But these little two-letter prepositions seem to create confusion. Here are a few rules to help you understand when to use in, on, and at in a sentence.
For describing time and place, the prepositions in, on, and at go from general to specific.
Prepositions of Time
Prepositions of time are words that indicate the relationship between a specific time and an action or event. The three most common prepositions of time are “at,” “in,” and “on.”
“At” is used to indicate a specific point in time, such as “at 3 o’clock.” “In” is used to indicate a period of time, such as “in the morning” or “in the year 2020.” “On” is used to indicate a specific day or date, such as “on Monday” or “on my birthday.”
Understanding the differences between these prepositions and when to use them correctly is important for clear communication in the English language.
Let’s start by looking at how we talk about time. English speakers use in to refer to a general, longer period of time, such as months, years, decades, or centuries. For example, we say “in April,” “in 2015” or “in the 21st century.”
Moving to shorter, more specific periods of time, we use on to talk about particular days, dates, and holidays . You may hear, “I went to work on Monday,” or “Let’s have a picnic on Memorial Day.”
For the most specific times, and for holidays without the word “day,” we use at. That means you will hear, “Meet me at midnight,” or “The flowers are in bloom at Easter time.”
Prepositions of Place
Prepositions of place are words that indicate the location or position of something in relation to something else. The three most common prepositions of place are “at,” “in,” and “on.”
“At” is used to indicate a specific point or location, such as “at the corner of the street” or “at the store.” “In” is used to indicate an enclosed or surrounded space, such as “in the room” or “in the box.” “On” is used to indicate a surface or location, such as “on the wall” or “on the table.”
Understanding the differences between these prepositions and when to use them correctly is important for clear communication in the English language. Additionally, it’s important to note that the same prepositions that are used for time, can be used for place as well, and might have different meanings depending on the context.
When English speakers refer to a place, we use in for the largest or most general places. You can say that “VOA is located in Washington, D.C.” And “for the best food, try the restaurants in Chinatown.”
For more specific places, like certain streets, we use the preposition on. You may know that President Obama lives on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.
Finally, we get to the most specific places. For exact addresses or intersections, we use the preposition at. If I invited you to visit us here at VOA, I would say, “Come to my office at 330 Independence Avenue.” To be exact, it’s at the corner of Independence and 3rd Street.”
In English, though, there is always an ‘exception to the rule.’ When talking about transportation, things get a little hard to understand. We use on for public vehicles like buses or trains, but also for smaller ones like a bicycle. “I rode there on my bicycle.” However, you ride in a car.
Still, it helps to know that English prepositions do have some rules.
Following the “general to specific” rule should help you most of the time.
Prepositions of Time and Place | Images
Prepositions of Time and Place – AT/ IN/ ON
Prepositions of Time – AT / IN / ON
How to Use Prepositions of Time – AT / IN / ON.
The preposition AT is used in the following descriptions of time:
1. With clock times
- My last train leaves at 10:30.
- We left at midnight.
- The meeting starts at two thirty.
- With specific times of day, or mealtimes
- He doesn’t like driving at night.
- I’ll go shopping at lunchtime.
2. With festivals
- Are you going home at Christmas/Easter?
3. In certain fixed expressions which refer to specific points in time
- Are you leaving at the weekend?
- He’s unavailable at present.
- I finish the course at the end of April.
The preposition IN is used in the following descriptions of time:
1. With months, years, seasons, and longer periods of time
- I was born in 1965.
- We’re going to visit them in May.
- The play is set in the Middle Ages.
2. With periods of time during the day
- He’s leaving in the morning.
- She usually has a sleep in the afternoon.
- I tried to work in the evening.
3. To describe the amount of time needed to do something
- They managed to finish the job in two weeks.
- You can travel there and back in a day.
4. To indicate when something will happen in the future:
- She’ll be ready in a few minutes.
- He’s gone away but he’ll be back in a couple of days.
The preposition ON is used in the following descriptions of time:
1. With days of the week, and parts of days of the week
- I’ll see you on Friday.
- She usually works on Mondays.
- We’re going to the theatre on Wednesday evening.
2. With dates
- The interview is on 29th April.
- He was born on February 14th, 1995.
3. With special days
- She was born on Valentine’s Day.
- We move house on Christmas Eve.
- I have an exam on my birthday.
Prepositions of Place – AT / IN / ON
How to Use Prepositions of Place – AT / IN / ON.
The preposition AT is used in the following descriptions of place/position:
1. With specific places/points in space
- She kept the horse at a nearby farm.
- Angie’s still at home.
- I’ll meet you at reception.
2. With public places and shops
- Jane’s at the dentist/hairdresser.
- I studied German at college/school/university.
- Shall I meet you at the station?
3. With addresses
- They live at 70, Duncombe Place.
4. With events
- I met her at last year’s conference. She wasn’t at Simon’s party.
The preposition IN is used in the following descriptions of place/position:
1. With geographical regions
- Driving in France is very straightforward.
- With cities, towns and larger areas
- Do you like living in Nottingham?
2. With buildings/rooms and places that can be thought of as surrounding a person or object on all sides
- Can you take a seat in the waiting room, please?
- I’ve left my bag in the office.
- There’s a wedding in the church this afternoon.
3. With containers
- There’s fresh milk in the fridge.
- I think I’ve got a tissue in my pocket.
- The money is in the top drawer of my desk.
4. With liquids and other substances, to show what they contain
- Do you take milk in your coffee?
- I can taste garlic in this sauce.
- There’s a lot of fat in cheese and butter.
The preposition ON is used in the following descriptions of place/position:
1. With surfaces, or things that can be thought of as surfaces
- The letter is on my desk.
- There was a beautiful painting on the wall.
- The toy department is on the first floor.
2. With roads/streets, or other things that can be thought of as a line, e.g. rivers
- The bank is on the corner of King’s Street.
- Bournemouth is on the south coast.
- It’s the second turning on the left.
Prepositions of Time and Place – AT/ IN/ ON | Images