There are about 150 prepositions in the English language, and non-native English speakers often have a hard time distinguishing which to use in order to complete a prepositional phrase. A preposition is a word that explains the time, spatial, or logical relationship between the other parts of a sentence. Since there are so many, it is impossible to memorize a complete list of prepositions, but here is a trick:
The mouse ran ________ the house.
If you can complete the above sentence and it makes sense, that word is a preposition. For instance, “the mouse ran in the house” makes sense, but saying “the mouse ran downstairs the house” does not. In is a preposition, whereas downstairs is a noun. This trick does not work to identify all prepositions, but it does work most of the time.
For the purpose of this blog post, we will focus on prepositions at, on, and in as they relate to time, place, and location.
Prepositions of time
We use at to designate specific times.
- The train is due at 2:15 p.m.
We use on to designate days and dates.
- My mother is coming on Monday.
- We’re having a party on New Year’s Eve.
We use in for nonspecific times during a day, month, season, or year.
- She likes to walk the dog in the morning.
- It’s too cold in winter to run outside.
- He was born in 1971.
- He’s going on vacation in August.
Prepositions of place
We use at for specific addresses.
- Rachel lives at 33 Bleeker Street in New York.
We use on to designate names of streets, avenues, etc.
- Her apartment is on Bleeker Street.
And we use in for the names of land-areas (towns, counties, states, countries, and continents).
- She lives in Manhattan.
- Manhattan is in New York City.
- New York City is in New York.
Prepositions of location
We use at for specific locations.
- Mary is at the restaurant.*
- I am waiting at the bus stop.
We use on to describe being on the surface of something
Your shoes are on the floor.
You are standing on my foot.
We use in to describe being inside of a space.
Michael is in bed.*
I found this book in the library.
I left my backpack in the bathroom.
*For some of these locations you can use multiple prepositions (example: Michael is in bed or Michael is on the bed).
Complete the sentence with the correct preposition (at, on, or in):
1. My plane is arriving ______ 10:30pm tomorrow.
2. She left her jacket _______ the car.
3. The receipt is ______ the table.
4. I will take my vacation ______ October.
5. She said she would be here _______ time.
Answers: at, in, on, in, on
Which prepositions do you struggle with the most? Share with us and we will write a post to try to explain it more clearly!
Jess is a Public Relations Associate at Voxy, and recently graduated from Indiana University (Go Hoosiers!). She enjoys travelling, cooking, and playing volleyball. “The culture of this company is unbelievable. Everyone is having a lot of fun and working very hard- we’re going to accomplish some great things this summer!”