Prepositions of time – In / On / At

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Level: Beginner    Reading Time: 7 minutes    Category: Grammar

 

 

Using in, on and at in English can be very difficult to get right.

If you get them wrong, it can be a bit confusing for the people you are talking to.

You don’t need to worry though, because by the end of this lesson, you will know how to use in, on and at to talk about time in English.

Today we are specifically talking about time. We will cover how to use prepositions to talk about long, short or specific periods of time as well as some irregular cases.

What are prepositions?

Prepositions are used to tell the listener the connection between two nouns.

They tell the listener how the two things are related and the relationship could be related to time or it could be related to location.

Prepositions usually go before a noun or pronoun and tell us the extra details.

Today, we are only talking about in, on and at (because these are the trickiest ones) but here is a list of other common prepositions.

above, about, across, against, along, among, around, before, behind, below, beneath, beside, between, beyond, by, down, during, except, for, from, inside, into, like, near, of, off, since, to, toward, through, under, until, up, upon, with, within.

There is also a full lesson all about prepositions of place, using in, on and at, that you should check out. Click the link below.

How to use In:

There are a few different ways you can use in to talk about time.

 

The most common way is to talk about long periods of time. This can be for things like:

  • Centuries (19th century, 20th century, 21st century)
  • Decades (1980’s, 1990’s 2000’s)
  • Years (1984, 1997, 2019)
  • Seasons (Summer, Winder, Autumn)
  • Months (January, June, October)

Here are some example sentences:

  • My birthday is in October.
  • I was born in 1993.
  • I love eating ice cream in summer.

 

We can also use In to talk about specific parts of the day. This is used for things like:

  • Morning
  • Afternoon
  • Evening

Check out these examples:

  • I usually wake up at 6am in the morning.
  • We have a meeting in the afternoon tomorrow.
  • In the evenings, he likes to watch TV.

 

We don’t use “in” to talk about night so use “at” instead.

 

We can also use In to talk about the past or the future. Like this…

  • In the past, I would always walk to school.
  • We might have flying cars in the future
  • In the olden days, people used to heat their house with a wood fire.
 

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How to use On:

On is a preposition that can be used to be more specific about they time you are referring to.

 

This preposition is often used to talk about specific periods of time. Usually for things like…

  • Days (Monday, Wednesday, Friday)
  • Dates (1st, 8th, 22nd)
  • Specific holidays (Christmas Day, Easter Sunday, New Year’s Eve)

Here are some examples:

  • I have a meeting on Friday.
  • Let’s have a party on New Years Eve
  • I am going to Tokyo on the 27th.

 

We also use on to talk about the weekend. It is also common to use on when we are talking about events that will be held over the weekend. Consider these examples:

  • I love going hiking on weekends.
  • Download festival is being held on the last weekend in May.
  • What did you do on the weekend?

 

In British English, we often say at the weekend, however, events still use on the weekend.

how to use at:

At is another preposition of time in English. It can be used in a few different ways.

 

The main way we use at is to talk about precise times. Usually this is for things like:

  • Time of the day (Hours, minutes and seconds)
  • Points in the day (lunchtime, sunset, midnight)
  • an exact moment (the minute, that point in time)

Here are some example sentences:

  • I wake up at 6:30 every day.
  • I love to visit the lake at sunset.
  • What are you doing at the moment?

 

We also use at when we use the phrase “the same time”. Like this…

  • Me and my wife usually go to bed at the same time.
  • They both tried to speak at the same time and I couldn’t understand them.
  • I arrived at the same time the train left.

prepositions of time infographic

Are prepositions of time always needed?

No, not always. We skip in, on and at when we use other words in the sentence because we don’t need two time expressions. The words to look out for are:

  • each,
  • every,
  • next,
  • last,
  • some,
  • this,
  • that,
  • one,
  • any,
  • all.

That means if you see these words in the time expression, you don’t need to add in, on or at. For example

  • I go shopping on every weekend = I go shopping every weekend.

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