English Grammar: Lesson 20 (Part 3) – Describing Place and Time with at, on, in

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Three prepositions that cause a lot of problems are at, on, and in. These three prepositions have many different uses, but there is an easy way to remember some of them. Study the diagram and the charts below.

Place                                                                           Time


PLACES:  very specific place, especially with the name of the place

  • at Jefferson Community College
  • at the Hilton
  • at Pizza Hut

TIMES:  very specific time; clock time

  • at 10:1 7 a.m.
  • at noon
  • at midnight


  • on Kennedy Avenue
  • on Smith Street
  • on Interstate


  • on Monday
  • on June 17
  • on my birthday


  • in Chicago
  • in Illinois
  • in the Northeast
  • in North America
  • in my neighborhood


  • in October
  • in spring
  • in the 1970s
  • in the 18th century
  • in these two weeks

Exception with the parts of a day:
in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, at nighy

Idiomatic Expressions with at, on, in

Here are some idiomatic uses of prepositions of location that you may need to memorize.

IN vs ON:

in bed (sleeping)

on the bed (sitting)

AT vs IN:

at the hospital (visiting, working)

in the hospital (a patient)


at the school (visiting, working)

in school (a student)


at home



at work



in class


Different Meanings for at, in, and on

  1. Sometimes the meaning of a preposition is easy to understand.
  • The clerk put the shirt in a white box. The box is on the table.

In this example, in means inside something and on means on top of something.

  • My cousin works at Washington Bank. He works in the Accounting Department.

In this example, at means at a specific location and in means in a larger unit (for example, a department or an office).

  1. Sometimes the meaning of a preposition is not clear.

I bought my car in 2005.1 bought my car on my birthday.

Why do we say in 2005 and not on 2005? Why do we say on my birthday and not in my birthday? (Answer: We use in with years and on with dates.)

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