English prepositions are quite a challenge for English learners. Mainly because they get mixed up when relating to their native languages and sometimes don’t make much sense if we translate them. That is why we decided to create this guide to show you the different circumstances you need to use them. There are many prepositions and multiple ways to apply them. We decided to focus this guide on those that create the most confusion: In, on, and at.
English prepositions can be used for different purposes. For instance, we can talk about time and place. In English, we primarily use in, on, and at to refer to them. However, there are other prepositions that we can recur to as well. Even though they may seem difficult to understand, prepositions follow a certain logic. We invite you to keep on reading to learn more about English prepositions and take a step further towards mastering the English language!
Knowing which preposition of place to use can seem a tricky task. However, we can find a certain logic as we decide whether to apply in, on or at. Of course, rules and reason have their exceptions, as it happens with all languages. And, I’ll be honest, it occurs even more in English. But this doesn’t mean English is difficult. In fact, this logic is quite simple to follow.
While a rule claims that the English language goes from general to specific, this rule may be complex to apply to all cases. That is why we will recur, as we said before, to a more logical way of thinking. In this way, you will understand how English prepositions work and apply them to your recently acquired vocabulary.
When referring to a place, we use ‘In’ to talk about things contained between boundaries. This rule, for example, applies to the following cases:
I couldn’t find my glasses, and then I remembered I’d left them in the kitchen.
I lived in Argentina before we moved with my family to Los Angeles.
We were in Bob’s car when we heard the news. It was terrible!
‘On’ can also refer to boundaries, but more specific ones. Here, we can apply our logic. As we saw before, we use ‘in’ for countries, cities, or neighborhoods. You can still dig into those locations and be more specific. In other words, you can break down (as in specify, we’re not breaking anything for real) a country, a city, or a neighborhood. Into what? Well, streets, for example. That’s why we use ‘on’ for:
I live in a building on Collins Ave., in Miami, Florida.
I can’t hear you very well right now; I’m on the train heading to London.
What a mess! All your toys are spread on the floor! Pick them up!
We use the English preposition ‘at’ to refer to specific locations or places where our activity is implicit. These places and activities can be permanent or routinary, or temporary. Let’s see this in detail:
I waited at the bus station for an hour before I realized there was a strike.
Note that ‘on the table’ is not the same as ’at the table’. While the first one refers to something placed on the surface, the other one implies the idea of sitting to perform an action, such as having dinner. In this case, you are sitting on a chair, for example, in front of the table.
Sam just texted me; he’s at the door waiting for you to go downstairs.
I’m at a meeting right now; I’ll call you back later.
I live at 1314 Collins Ave, in Miami, Florida.
English prepositions of time are not very complex. If you could handle and understand the previous section on prepositions of place. In that case, you will understand how the English language works when referring to time. As a matter of fact, they work very similarly.
To make a reference to time, we also use in, on, and at in English. Depending on how much information we have or give, we will decide which preposition is the correct one to use. As we said before, we can also apply the “general to specific” rule we explained above.
When referring to time, the English language uses ‘in’ to refer to periods that can be broken down. Remember what we said about countries, cities, and neighborhoods when we explained prepositions of place? Well, it works pretty much the same in this case. That’s why we use ‘in’ for:
Thomas Edison invented the light-bulb in 1880. (Yes, I know history too).
I’m very nervous; I’m sitting for my final exams in December.
I have to go to the doctor in the evening.
We always go to the beach in the summer.
I’m about to take a shower. I’ll be ready in 15 minutes.
We use ‘on’ to refer to specific dates. This may be a little confusing at first, but you’ll see that there’s a certain logic to it. You can’t break down days, as what dates refer to. By using ‘on’, we are not talking about an extended period but a certain point in a month or week when something occurs. That’s why we use the English preposition ‘on’ for:
My birthday is on May 10th (This is actually true. Gifts are expected)
Are you free on Sunday? Shall we go out?
No, I’m busy on Sunday. Could we do it on Friday night?
We always see my grandparents on Christmas Day.
We use ‘at’ to refer to the most specific moment of the day or year. However, we can introduce this in different ways, as you will see here:
We’re going to the cinema tonight. We’ll meet at 8 pm.
We always have lunch at noon. That is a rule.
Americans usually have turkey at Thanksgiving.
I know! We can take a road trip at the weekend!
English prepositions are not complex once you understand how they work. As we always suggest from Inmersivo, Empointe’s learning platform, the best way to master English is to practice. You can either recur to online exercises or ask your English teacher to help you out. If you still think you need something else, you can read our articles on the best ways to learn English.
Learning how to use the different English prepositions is crucial to take your English to the next level. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter to receive more tips, news, and updates on English related to sport. Follow us on our social media to keep in touch with different ways of learning English. Thank you for reading! See you next time!