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Grammar Guide: Important Prepositions of Time and Place - In, On & At

Updated: Jun 18, 2023





In, On & At are all examples of prepositions in English that show a relationship to both time and place.


It is useful to note that in, at & on as prepositions of time and place actually have similar definitions:


In - for both time and place is non specific or general


On - In place a more specific location in a larger general location or in time a specific day within a larger time context


At - The most specific preposition: A specific location or time.





Prepositions of Time

Function:

Prepositions of time show the relationship between two parts of a sentence in the context of time. This relationship in time can be understood as one of the following ideas:


to indicate an unspecified amount of time (e.g. in)

to indicate a specific time (e.g. at)

to indicate a specific date (e.g. on)

to indicate a span of time (e.g. from... to...)

to indicate something takes place prior to something else (e.g. before)

to indicate something happening while something else is also happening (e.g. during)


Examples of In, On & At as prepositions of time


In

As a preposition of time, in is usually used to represent an unspecified amount of time or a general period of time.


In + Parts of the day

in the morning/afternoon/evening - We have class in the afternoon


In + Months

My birthday is in May


In + Seasons

Christmas is in winter


In + Years

The club was founded in 1882

They were married in 1977


In + Decades

The best music was made in the 1960s

Fashion was terrible in the eighties


In + Centuries

We will have flying cars in the 21st century

He lived in the 10th century


In + Periods of time

They did things differently in the past

We will have greater opportunities in the future

Life was difficult in the middle ages

I will be with you in a moment


In + Weeks

We will meet again in three weeks

(Where the other uses of in are about events occurring within a specific period of time, this use refers to a duration of time before an action is going to occur, similar to in a moment)


In + Holidays

We were at my parents house in the Christmas holiday



On

As a preposition of time, on refers to a specific day or date.


On + Days

We return to school on Monday


On + Dates

April fools day is on April the 1st

On the first day of Christmas

We got married on the 28th


On + Holidays on a specific day

We will have lunch together on New Year's Day

We stayed with her family on Christmas Day


On + Specific days

On that day I was not at work

I went for drinks on my birthday

We needed a babysitter on our anniversary


On + Specific time

You will only need to be available on weekdays

You need to arrive on time

We first kissed on a summer evening like this


On + Day + Part of a day

We go to church on Sunday mornings

I always have a drink with my colleagues on Friday evening

I play football on Sunday evening



At

As a preposition of time, at demonstrates a specific time.


At + Hours

We will eat at 1pm

The match starts at 3pm


At + Parts of the day

People should be careful at night

The bells chime at midnight


At + Holidays without "day"

Some people can get depressed at New Year


At + Time

I will see you at breakfast

At present, we do not have any available positions


Prepositions of Place

Function:

Prepositions of place show the relationship between two parts of a sentence in context of location. This relationship can be understood as one of the following ideas:


to indicate an enclosed space (e.g. in)

to indicate something on a surface or somewhere specific in a larger area (e.g. on)

to indicate a specific point (e.g. at)

to indicate something is in a position in relation to something else (e.g. behind/in front of/beside)


Examples of In, On & At as prepositions of place


In

When describing place, in is used to demonstrate something being within an enclosed or larger space. We can often think about boundaries or walls to enclose the location


In + country/county

Canterbury is in England

Canterbury is in Kent


In + region or city

We used to go on holiday in the Lake District

I live in Zaragoza

The bank is in the city centre


In + internal location/enclosed space

He is working in the library

We are in the taxi now

The coat is in the wardrobe


On

On indicates something is on top of something else, or a more specific location within a larger area.


On + street

The bank is on Main Street

It is on James Street before the traffic lights


On + surface

The laptop is on the table

Put the model on the shelf

The clock is on the wall


On + forms of transport

We are on the bus

(Note: we use in for private forms of transport, such as car or taxi but on for forms you ride such as bike or scooter)


On + communication

I am on the radio every week

Please wait, I am talking on the phone

You can find better prices on the internet.

At

When used as a preposition of place, at is used to show something is at a specific location. It is the most specific of the prepositions of place.


At + address/specific location

I picked up the book at the library

My office is at 102 Hubbard Road

I was at work when you phoned me.







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