Use on for the days of the week:
Joe will be leaving on Saturday.
gets paid on Friday.
Use at for time of day and also for the words noon, night, midnight:
Tracy’s friends are arriving at 10 a.m.
The class starts at noon.
Vampires come out at night.
The fireworks show will begin at midnight.
Use in for other parts of the day, and with months, years, seasons:
He likes to read in the morning or in the afternoon, but not at night.
It gets cold here in December.
Connie was born in the fall.
Samantha will be on vacation for three weeks. (She has three weeks of vacation time.)
William doesn’t finish school by February,
he will have to attend for another semester. (He has to be done
before midnight on the last day of January, when the month then changes to
The law regarding taxes in the United States is that everyone must have their taxes postmarked by one minute before midnight on April 15. The law doesn't state that the tax department must receive the tax forms by the 15th. It only states that everyone's forms must have a U.S. Post Office postmark by the end of the day of April 15.
Cameron was busy painting his house
to September. (beginning in June and ending
waited for him from
6 p.m. until
p.m., and then went to bed. (beginning at 6 p.m. ending at 10 p.m.)
his work time. (He sings for some period of time at some time of the day while he's
Annie is determined to finish the project within the year. (no longer than a year.)
He hasn’t seen her since Tuesday. (Tuesday was the last time he saw her.
Important note: People learning English have great trouble knowing how to use the word since, when it refers to time. (A different meaning of the word since means because.) The word since is used when you're talking about a specific day/month/year, or time of day, or period of time. Here are a few examples that will help you:
I haven't seen Diana since we went to lunch last Thursday.
1) How long have you been living in your house? 2) We've been living here since June of '90.
1) When did you begin studying the violin? 2) I've been studying the violin since I was a little boy.
1) When's the last time you went back to your country to visit? 2) I haven't gone back there since the day I left.
expressing place or location (spatial relations) are classed as 1) prepositions
of location and 2) prepositions of direction. They may be either positive or negative. Prepositions of location are used with
verbs describing states or conditions (“be” and its forms are the most
commonly used verbs), and prepositions of direction are used with action verbs.
The sale is at the mall. (the sale exists, is---a state of being)
We went to the sale. (we performed an action—we went)
To express ideas about a place
(See Dimensions and Prepositions)
with spaces: in a house, in a field, in a bar, in a cafe "There's a strange sound in the basement.”
bodies of water: in
the pool, in the pond, in the ocean, in the bathtub
a line, in a row
Note: In American English, you'll hear in and on used interchangeably when referring to a line of people. (British people say "queue".)
" I don't want to wait on line at the bank."
"When you get to the airport, get in line immediately, if you don't want to have to wait for 2 hours.
"There are 5 lines of cars waiting for a Customs inspection. Which line is Jack on?
"He parked his car, and he's been standing on/in line since 3 o'clock."
2. Talking about the surface of a place:
"Larry left these books on the steps." (See Dimensions and Prepositions )
the wall, on the floor, on the chair
small islands :
:I shopped on (the Isle of) Capri last year. When we went sailing, we stayed on (the island of) Bora Bora overnight.
ahead, on the left, on the side, on the top
“Martha met Donald at the movies.” (See
Dimensions and Prepositions )
the store, at the races, at the movies
with places on a page: at the middle, at the top, at the bottom of the page
for groups of people: at the front of the audience, at the side of the crowd, at the front of the congregation
Note: When you say "I just wrote it on my notebook.", that means that you just wrote something on the cover of the book, not inside the book on a page.
prepositions used for location:
lower, closer to, and farther
from a point
The horse jumped over the fence.
The balloons were floating above our heads, but I couldn't catch any of them.
2. Talking about an object lower than a point: under, *underneath, beneath, below
In American English, when we use the word underneath, there's a subtle meaning of many things having been put on top of whatever is underneath. When we use under, most of the time (not always) there's only one thing over, or on top of whatever is under it. If I'm under the bed, the bed is the only thing over me. If my diamond ring is lost at a garbage dump, the ring is buried underneath tons and tons of garbage.
Note: Some things can be said in only one specific way, and other things can be said with prepositions that are interchangeable. If one is on a ship on the top deck, going one floor down can only be said with below, i.e. "He went below." If you're swimming in the ocean with your face in the water, you're swimming under water.
"The freshest tomatoes aren't put at the top of the pile. They're put underneath (the top layer), so that people will buy the oldest ones first.
" It's very romantic to walk with you beneath a star-studded sky.
3. Close to a point: near, by, (nearby) next to, between, among, opposite, against, beside, along, around, inside of, across, within
“Belinda lives near an air base.” (not 'near to'!)
"He keeps his tools by his workbench.”
“There's a gas station next to the grocery store.”
“Rita is sitting between
Peter and Mark.”
“Duane left his special pen among the others on the desk, and couldn't find it.”
“The video store is opposite the mini-mall.”
“Carol put her umbrella against the wall.”
“You’ll recognize Carl. He'll be standing beside the third park bench.”
"Rod planted bushes along the curb near his house.”
“Love is all around us.”
“Put the smaller box inside of the bigger one.”
“Logan lives across the street from Mr. Lee.”
“We all have a small child within ourselves.”
4. Approaching or leaving a point: toward,
ahead of, behind, from, out of, through
“He came toward the house with a grim look on his face.”
“David won the race when he pulled ahead of Joe.”
“I think I was behind the slowest person in the world today at the check-out line.”
“It came from outer space and landed in New Mexico.”
“He came running out of his house to scream at the children playing on their skateboards.”
the town warning everyone of the flood.”
Dimensions and Prepositions
There are three types of dimensional prepositions: those used for point, those used for surface, and those used for area or volume.
These prepositions show that the noun that follows them is treated as a point (physical or mental locale) in relation to where another object is positioned.
“I'm at the neighbor’s house.” (“the neighbor’s house” is the point of reference. “I” is the object in relation to that point. “at” is the proper preposition to use) In this example, I may be outside the house, or inside the house, and there's no way to know where I am, physically. The following question is being asked by someone who is not at CC's house, requesting information as to Annie's whereabouts. "Where's Annie? She's at CC's house." Now, if I go to CC's house looking for Annie, I'll ask "Where's Annie?", and the answer will be something like this: "She's in the house." or "She's in the backyard." or "She's outside in the garden."
Notes on using
At isn’t as specific as in or on, and has a variety of uses.
“Scott waited for Pete at the cafe.”
“Roberta spent the day at the circus.”
“They arrived at the courthouse in time for the trial.”
“Zachary arrived at the party two hours late.”
“Lanny jumped at the bull to scare it away.”
“The bull charged at Lanny immediately.”
These prepositions show that the position of an object is defined according to the surface on which it rests.
“The pie is on the plate.”
(“the plate” is the surface; “the pie” is on the
plate, not over it, not under it, not beside it.)
"He played on the trampoline until he got tired." (You play on the surface of a trampoline by jumping on it.)
These prepositions show that an object lies within a particular area or within the confines of a volume.
“He dove in the pool feet first.” (“he” is the object; “the pool” has a defined area. “in” (or “into”) is the correct preposition.)
“She left her car in the garage and walked to
work.” (“the garage"
is a defined area.
is within that area)
Notes for using in and on:
a) Both in
and on can be used with nouns denoting enclosed areas
such as a lawn or a mirror. In is used when the space is considered as an area and
used when the space is considered as a surface.
“The children were running on the lawn." (surface)
“There were dandelions in the lawn.” (area)
“The maid left smudges on the mirror." (surface)
“The wicked queen looked in the mirror to admire herself.” (area)
implies that an area is enclosed, but on only implies that the relevant
noun has a surface, but isn't always an enclosed area:
“The horses were in the corral.” (enclosed)
“The horses were on the mountain.” (not enclosed)
“She was on the tennis court.” (not enclosed)
“He was on the football field.” (not enclosed)
“Alex and Marcus were in the gym.” (enclosed)
c) If the area doesn't have physical boundaries, but it does have mental or social boundaries, in is used.
“He is in medical research.” (working in that occupation)
“He is respected in literary circles.” (among other authors)
“That is not in the realm of possibility.” (any category of what is possible)
d. d) Using in and on with the noun street. In and on can be used with street as point (a.) shows, i.e. “in the area” or “on the surface.” Another use is an idiom: The first two follow the general pattern of in and on usage. The third is an idiom that must be learned:
“He lost his job, and his wife kicked him out of the house. He’s out on the street now.” (“out on the street” is an idiom that means the person has no place to live.)
e) Using in and on with nouns about transportation: in a car, on a bus, on a plane, on a train, on a ship. Notice that on is used for public or commercial transport. Sometimes people use in when the public transport is not moving and use on when it's moving.
at....... for point
on....... for surface
Use in....... for area and volume
Note: These are not the only prepositions that can be put in these categories.
Take a moment to think about the
relationships shown in the sentences below. If
you have trouble, re-read the explanations above.
1. My sister is at the movies.
2. There's a grease spot on your tie.
3. A shark has been sighted in the harbor.
4. Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!
Hint: Ask yourself
"Where is (the subject of the sentence)?” Then see if it's a
relationship of point, surface or area/volume.
“He glanced at her from across the room.”
with the word mirror.
He glanced in
the mirror before leaving the house.” (to see how he looked) 'He glanced at
the mirror.' means he may have seen a crack in it, but he wasn't looking at
himself in it.
“It is rude to laugh at someone for being different.”
spends too much time looking at
The whole class rejoiced at the graduation ceremony.”
“Preston smiled at the pretty girl when she came into the room.”
“When we go to the zoo, are we staring
monkeys, or are they staring at us?”
With approve, consist, smell, use of
“Lewis doesn’t approve of store-bought salsa.”
“He dislikes it because it consists of so many artificial additives.”
“Mother had been
cooking all day, and the house smelled
“Stephen dreamed of Jeannie with the light brown hair.”
"I am thinking about this problem." ('thinking about' means thinking for some period of time.)
“I can’t think of her address right now.” ('thinking of' means thinking for only a few moments.)
“Has anyone called for me?”
“Johnny hopes for better job someday.”
“Susie looked for her scarf everywhere.”
“Sheldon won’t wait for the train; he’ll take the bus instead.”
“I’ll watch for Mario, if you want to leave for a minute.”
“If you only wish for things, you'll never get them. You have to do something yourself to make wishes come true."