In, On, At – What Are The Differences and How To Use Them

Blog
14 June 2022
By Sarah Angela Almaden
Dog with his owner

Unsplash: Maxime

Oh, the glorious world of English grammar! Some days, it is easy; other days, it is very confusing. Hey-ho, that’s just the way it goes. But don’t let this get you down and discourage you from learning, because with practice you’ll master English grammar in no time.

When learning English, one of the things you are introduced to is prepositions. Prepositions are words that are used to tell time, place, direction, location, and spatial relationships of subjects and objects. Some popular prepositions you’ve been using are in, on, and at.

The prepositions in, on, and at are two letter-words that don’t bite. However, they have the ability to cause so much confusion. Nevertheless, these common prepositions play an important role in answering the question of where. Where is the pencil? The pencil is in the pencil case. Where is the cake? The cake is on the table. Where does he work? He works at the hospital.

Furthermore, they also answer the questions of when and what. When did they buy the car? They bought the car in May. What is on the shelf? The books are on the shelf. What time will the meeting start? The meeting will start at midnight.

Now, the list of questions these two-letter words can answer goes on and on. So, if you want to master the art of using prepositions, check out this basic tutorial for additional tips and tricks.

Are you – In?

Used when referring to something that is inside a container or a defined space

  • The ball is in the garden.
  • The puppy is sleeping in her crate.
  • Do you want to put the ice cream in this cooler?

Used when discussing a period of time, months, and years

  • They told us that breakfast is only served in the early morning.
  • She moved here sometime in October.
  • The couple next door planted that tree in 2018.

Used when describing a location (neighborhood, city, country)

  • You won’t get lost, because the new office is in the same area.
  • I will be in London for the next two weeks.
  • The circus is in Germany.

Used when explaining a state of condition

  • You are madly in love with him!
  • These shoes are in great condition.
  • This kitchen is in need of repair.

Used when specifying someone’s job or occupation

  • He is working in the bakery.
  • They are in Finance.
  • I am in the book business.

Used when describing some modes of transportation (car, van, taxi, and truck)

  • You need to hurry and get in the car.
  • Are we all going to fit in the taxi?
  • Is the cat in the truck?

Used when indicating the shape, size, and color

  • The newly released purses come in two shapes: square and rectangular.
  • Do you have this shirt in Medium or Large?
  • These trousers are available in black, blue, and red?

Are you – On?

Used when talking about something that is above a surface or outside an area

  • The phone is on the table.
  • Her notes can be found on page 3.
  • The painting is on the wall.

Used when referencing a part of the body

  • That’s a beautiful ring on your finger.
  • His grandmother gave him that bracelet on his left wrist.
  • That is a nice dragon tattoo on your leg.

Used when indicating dates, days of the week, and times of the year

  • They drove to Frankfurt on September 3rd last year.
  • Is your party on Friday or Sunday?
  • We met on Valentine’s Day.

Used when referring to something that is on an electronic device

  • I am on the phone right now.
  • Stranger Things will be on TV all day tomorrow.
  • The kettle on the stove is whistling.

Used when describing specific a street name, some types of transportation (bus, train, plane, boats, and bike), or a state of being

  • My neighbor has a property on Cornelia Street.
  • We are on an express train heading to New York.
  • The clothes are on sale.

Are you – At?

Used when referring to a specific time and place

  • The meeting will end at 3 o’clock.
  • I heard they are staying at the Waldorf Astoria.
  • I can’t call, because I left my phone at home.

Used when identifying a specific location

  • The new restaurant is located at 123 Peaky Blinders Avenue, next to the red building.
  • There is a new exhibit at the Gryffindor Gallery.
  • The zoo at Central Park is temporarily closed.

Used when talking about an email address

  • Can you please send them an email at abcd@efg123.com tomorrow?
  • Scan these documents and share the copies with Michael at michael@theoffice.com.
  • You can send your fan mail at watermelonsugar@harrystyles.com.

Used when discussing an activity

  • They are not laughing at my jokes.
  • I am bad at cooking, so I prefer to wash the dishes.
  • They are walking at the same time.

Practice Quiz:

1. Do you think we can meet ___ 5 o’clock tomorrow for dinner?
  • A. In
  • B. On
  • C. At


2. She was already ___ the elevator right when he showed up.
  • A. In
  • B. On
  • C. At


3. Is that your water bottle ___ the table?
  • A. In
  • B. On
  • C. At


4. The cupcakes are ___ the green glass container.
  • A. In
  • B. On
  • C. At


5. They are angry ___ him for missing his birthday party.
  • A. In
  • B. On
  • C. At


6. I am hosting a party ___ Christmas Eve ___ the Strand Bookstore, 450 Columbus Avenue.
  • A. In and At
  • B. On and At
  • C. At and On


7. I live ___ a castle.
  • A. In
  • B. On
  • C. At


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