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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I saw her _______ the basketball game ________ the gym _________ the Augusta campus.
With all of this traffic, do you think we will make our first meeting ______ 8 AM? I always like to be ________ time.
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.
What I love about my boss is that she encourages me to do homework ______ the job while I am _____ the clock. She’s great!
Let’s meet ____ the movie theater, _____ the parking lot— _____ time to get popcorn and still see the trailers before the movie.
You think the instructor had the quiz just to see if you did the reading, but it is all ______ your mind.
I turned in my assignment _____ Brightspace _______ 11:58 PM–just ______ time.
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/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
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:
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:
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:
We hope that you have enjoyed the in, on, and at resources, we developed specifically for you. In addition to our materials, there are many other great resources available. Here are some resources that we recommend: