In, On & At Prepositions: When to Use + Examples (2024)

If you learn English online, understanding when to use prepositions can cause quite a headache. We become so used to the way prepositions are used in our native tongue that using them in any other way can seem illogical or absurd.

Luckily, in English, we can identify many specific situations in which the in, on, and at prepositions are used in order to figure out when it is appropriate to use each one. These guidelines help us use the right preposition every time! 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, at, and on are used involve identifying where someone or something is (place) and when something happened (time). The charts below explain when these prepositions should be used in different situations of time and place.

In, on & at as prepositions of place

In, On & At Prepositions: When to Use + Examples (1)

atat a very specific point, location, or place
  • I’m working at the bakery.
  • The shop is at 455 Main Street.
  • Someone is at the door.
  • Is she at a concert tonight?
  • Read the title at the top of the page.
onon a surface

Exceptions: general street names and close to a river

  • The painting is on the wall.
  • Her ring is on her middle finger.
  • Do you like anything on the menu?
  • I live on Grove Street.
  • The restaurant is on the river.
inin an enclosed space, or a general area that contains 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 other confined areas, both prepositions “at” and “in” can be used, depending on the context. If you would like to describe the general location of where someone/something is, you should use “at.” For example, “Mary is at the school.” However, if you need to emphasize that someone/something is inside the building or area, you can use “in.” For instance, “Mary is in the school.”

In, on & at as prepositions of time

In, On & At Prepositions: When to Use + Examples (2)

atSpecific Times
  • Hours/minutes of the day
  • Times of 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.
onSpecific Days and Dates
  • Dates
  • Days of the week
  • Weekends*
  • Holidays* (e.g., New Year’s Eve, Independence Day, Halloween)
  • 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.
inMore 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, as shown above. 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 above, one difference between American and British grammar is our use of in, on, and at prepositions. Below we’ve highlighted some examples, so you can feel confident using them no matter which type of English you wish 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 in either Britain or the US. That said, as Brits consume a lot of American media, they will know what you mean if you get confused.

At last, you know your in, on, and at prepositions!

Now that you have learned the various contexts in which in, at, and on prepositions are used with regard to time and place, you can begin to confidently use these prepositions in your speech and writing.

Despite our top tips, you may still be a little unsure. Don’t worry! Preply English tutors are also here to help. With personalized learning plans, flexible schedules, and many more benefits, you can find the perfect tutor with ease. No more guessing or fretting–your English improves now!

In, On & At Prepositions: When to Use + Examples (2024)
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