ELL Guide

A guide for ELL (English Language Learners) at the University of Maine at Augusta

In/On/At--Time & Place

IN, ON, AT -- Place & Time 

In, On, and At are especially easy for ELLs to mix up. They cause a lot of mistakes. But we can prevent a lot of those mistakes by looking at how In, On, and At are used for place and time.  One principle that makes them easier to remember is that In, On, and At are on a spectrum from the bigger/general to the smaller/specific.  

Let's look at some examples.

PLACE

I live in Bangor on Spruce Street at apartment #3 of the big housing complex.  

Bangor, a city, is the biggest of these locations, so it uses in.  

Spruce Street is obviously a street and is smaller than Bangor (but bigger than the actual apartment), so we use on.  

The apartment is the smallest of these three things, so we use at.  

TIME

The same general principle could be applied to time. We use in for bigger periods of time, on for medium periods of time, and at for specific periods of time.  

I start my Biology class in the fall on the last Monday of August at 1:00 pm.  

We use in for the largest time period: the season, fall.

We use on for the smaller time period, the day Monday. 

We use at for the smallest or most specific time, 1:00 pm.  

As with nearly everything in English, there are exceptions to this principle.  But generally speaking, for place (which could be referred to as "location") and time, in is for the biggest things, on is for medium-sized things, and at is for the smallest things. 

More Examples of In vs. On

IN vs. ON

In and on cause a lot of confusion for ELLs. Let's look at some examples of how they are used correctly.  

1) I live in Maine.  

2) She lives on Main Street.  

3) I always get to my UMA classes on time.  

4) I try to leave early so that I am never in a hurry.  

5) One time I was running late, but it was okay; I just emailed my professor and said, “I am on my way.”  

6) She was in the library studying all day on Sunday.  

7) I will be graduating in June.  

8) I will be graduating on time if I pass all of my classes this semester.  

9) I live on the Augusta campus.  

10) She thought she left her cell phone on the cafeteria table, but it was in her pocket.  

11) Most of my classes are in the afternoon, but I really prefer classes to be in the morning.  

12) It seems like most of my classmates go home on Thanksgiving break, but I have not been home in two years.  

13) When I first came to Maine, I was unsure if I would like it, but eventually, I fell in love with the state.  

14) In literature class we are reading a book about loss, but I would rather read books on love.  

15) On Mondays, I eat my dinner at home.  

16) On Tuesdays, Las Palapas in Bangor has their Taco Tuesday special, so I eat my dinner there.  

17) Sometimes, I order takeout when I am in a hurry or on the run.  

In/On/At Quiz

In/On/At Quiz

  1.  I was ____  the classroom at ______  9 AM, just as it was listed _____ my calendar; unfortunately, as I learned I could have slept another hour because class did not start until 10 AM.  I wrote it down wrong ____ my calendar. 

  2. I was technically not ______  the Zoom meeting  ______  time because the host had not yet started the meeting, so they cannot say I was late to the meeting.  

  3. I saw her _______  the basketball game ________  the gym _________  the Augusta campus.  

  4. With all of this traffic, do you think we will make our first meeting ______  8 AM?  I always like to be ________ time.  

  5. You cannot be serious when you tell me you couldn’t find parking.  There are tons of parking spots available ______ the parking lot right by the main entrance to this building.   

  6. What I love about my boss is that she encourages me to do homework ______ the job while I am _____ the clock.  She’s great!  

  7. Let’s meet ____ the movie theater, _____ the parking lot— _____ time to get popcorn and still see the trailers before the movie.    

  8. You think the instructor had the quiz just to see if you did the reading, but it is all ______  your mind.  

  9. I turned in my assignment _____ Brightspace _______ 11:58 PM–just ______  time.  

  10. Get ______ the car!  We don’t have time to wait around here ______ the parking lot of our apartment complex.  We need to be ______ campus soon to catch the bus for the class trip.  We need to be ______  time because they are not going to wait around for us–and I don’t want to miss that trip!  

In/On/At Quiz Answers

In/On/At Quiz Answers 

  1. in/at/on (or in)/on (or in)--something could be “on” a calendar or “in” a calendar; sometimes it depends if the calendar “opens” or not.   2.  in/in (or on–sometimes context dictates that we need to use “on time” or “in time”--but sometimes either could be correct.  3. at/in/on  4.  at/on (while “in time” could be grammatically correct, the speaker is talking about their general punctuality and so “on time” is more appropriate.  5. in  6.  on/on  7.  at/in/in  8. in  9. on/at/in 10. in/in/on/on

Prepositions Practice

Prepositions Practice 

Now let's put to use what we just learned through some simple practice.  

Write one sentence using in, on, and at to explain the location of one of your classes:  

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Write one sentence using in, on, and at to explain the time one of your classes meets: 

____________________________________________________________________________

More Prepositions Practice 

Let's do some more practice.  

Write one sentence using in to explain the location of something:  

____________________________________________________________________________


Write one sentence using on to explain the location of something

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Write one sentence using at to explain the location of something:  

____________________________________________________________________________

Even More Prepositions Practice 

Let's do even more practice.  

Write one sentence using in to designate the time of something:  

____________________________________________________________________________


Write one sentence using on to designate the time of something: 

____________________________________________________________________________

 

Write one sentence using at to designate the time of something:  

____________________________________________________________________________

Additional Resources

Additional Resources

We hope that you have enjoyed the in, on, and at resources, we developed specifically for youIn addition to our materials, there are many other great resources available. Here are some resources that we recommend:  

Text:  

--Using At vs. In for Place and Time Correctly (yourdictionary.com) 

--Difference Between In and On (with Comparison Chart) - Key Differences

--Prepositions of Time — in, at, on | Continuing Studies at UVic

--The IN-ON-AT Pyramid -- Real Grammar

--Prepositions IN, ON, AND AT

Video:  

--Master AT, ON, IN with the TRIANGLE method - YouTube

--Master IN, ON, AT in 30 Minutes: Simple Method to Use Prepositions of TIME & PLACE Correctly - YouTube

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The University provides reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities upon request. Any person with a disability who needs accommodations for a workshop should contact UMA Libraries at uma.library@maine.edu to submit a request. Due to the lead-time needed to arrange certain accommodations, individuals should submit their request no later 1 week before the event.