Prepositions of Place – In / On / At

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Level: Beginner    Reading Time: 8 minutes    Category: Grammar

Learning prepositions in English can be very tricky for English students.

The words are very simple, but the way they are used can be a little bit confusing.

For example, is it “at the cafe” or “in the cafe”?

That’s why I made this lesson. I want to try and make it easy for you to choose the correct preposition when you are talking about places.

In this lesson, we will look at each word in detail and I will show you how to use it correctly. I will also show you the most common mistakes so you can avoid them!

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 time, using in, on and at, that you should check out. Click the link below.

How to use In.

There are a couple of different ways you can use in to talk about places.

The most common way is to talk about big areas. This can be for things like:

  • Continents (Europe, Africa, Asia etc)
  • Countries (The UK, Japan, Brazil etc)
  • Counties, States and Prefectures (Yorkshire, Hyogo, São Paulo)
  • Cities and Towns (Sheffield, Osaka, New York)

Here are some example sentences:

  • I live in Japan.
  • I had a great time in Europe.
  • The Statue of Liberty is in New York.

 

We can also use in to talk about being inside a place or in an area which is surrounded by a fence. This is usually for things like:

  • Rooms
  • Buildings
  • Gardens
  • Parks
  • Beds
  • Swimming Pools
  • The sea
  • The sky

Here are some examples:

  • I love to go swimming in the sea.
  • He is still in bed.
  • The kids are playing in the garden.

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How To Use On.

We usually use on to talk about specific places. The most common way is to talk about things like:

  • Street or Road names
  • Floors in a building
  • Flat surfaces, such as walls or ceilings.

Here are some examples:

  • There is a picture on the wall.
  • They went shopping on Oxford Street.
  • There is a food court on the second floor.

 

We can also use on when we are talking about being on top of something else. This is common when we are talking about things like:

  • Tables
  • Bookshelves
  • Plates
  • Balconies.

Here are some examples sentences:

  • There is a stamp on the envelope.
  • The book is on the table
  • There are lots of apples on the tree.

How to use At.

The most common way we use at is to talk about small places. This is usually for things like:

  • Buildings
  • Open spaces
  • Institutions (like school or work)
  • Transport stops
  • Specific places (Like doors or windows)

Here are some examples:

  • He is waiting at the bus stop.
  • There’s someone at the door.
  • She is meeting her friend at the station.

 

We also use at to talk about events, such as:

  • Concerts
  • Parties
  • Sporting events

For example:

  • They had a great time at the party.
  • He got really drunk at the concert.
  • She won a gold medal at the olympics

 

Finally, we can use at to talk about specific parts of a bigger thing. This is useful when we are trying to direct someone to part of things like:

  • Pages and documents
  • Websites
  • Photographs

Check out these example sentences:

  • Can you sign at the bottom of the page please?
  • OK class, let’s start at the top of page 10.
  • You can log in using the button at the top of the website.

prepositions of place infographic

Common Mistakes with Prepositions of Place.

When it comes to prepositions of time, there are some exceptions that tend to catch people out. Here are a couple of extra points you should be aware of.

 

Transportation.

When we are talking about methods of transport, it can be tricky to choose the correct preposition. Here is a rule that should help you.

If we are talking about things like:

  • Trains,
  • Busses,
  • Ships,
  • Planes

Then we should use on.

However…

If you want to talk about things like:

  • Cars
  • Taxis
  • Rickshaws/Tuk-tuks

Then the correct preposition is in.

Basically…

If you can walk around inside, you should use on. If you can’t, you should use in.

 
Websites and Apps.

Prepositions for applications and websites can be tricky. Here are some key points that you should try to remember.

When you are talking about things like:

  • Websites
  • Applications
  • Search engines

The correct preposition to use in on. On the other hand, things like:

  • Content
  • Videos
  • Pictures
  • Messages
  • Posts

Usually use the preposition in and that’s why you will hear people say things like.

  • I read all about it in an article on the BBC website.
  • She tagged me in a photo on Facebook.
  • They met on Tinder and they got talking in the DMs.

DM is short for Direct Messages where you can send someone a private message.

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