When to use in, on, at for time

In, on, and at are all prepositions. Prepositions are words used to link words in a sentence. The three types of preposition are those of time, place and direction. Today, we will focus on time, and we will learn when to use three prepositions, in, on, and at.

Some of the examples of those prepositions are: “I graduated in 2006.”, “We go to school on Mondays.”, and “Do you want to go to the cinema at 8 pm?”

But, when do we use them?

It may seem difficult, but there are certain rules to follow. The most important rule is the rule of size. For bigger time frames (more general), we use in. For more smaller (more specific), we use on, and for the smallest frames (very specific), we use at.

Let’s start with “in”. We use in when we want to describe bigger and more general time frame, that is, we do not want to say the exact time, but rather we mean a certain period of time. When talking about time, we use in with centuries, decades, years, months, weeks, seasons, periods of time, holidays and parts of the day. That is, we do not have a specific point in time, but we refer to it in general. Here are some examples for each one:

Centuries: “The First World War occurred in the 20th century.”

Decades: “I love how people dressed in the 70s.”

Years: “I was born in 1989.”

Months: “School starts in September.”

Weeks: “I will go to Germany in 5 weeks.”

Seasons: “A lot of people hate the rain in Autumn.”

Periods of time: “This event happened in the past.”

Holidays: “In the Easter holiday, people like to paint eggs.”

Parts of the day: “I take a shower in the morning.”

As we can see with these examples, none of them are really specific. For example, the 70s mean a period of 10 years, September means an entire month, 30 days, and morning starts around 5 am and lasts until noon.

When we want to talk about some things that are a bit more specific, we use the preposition on. Usually, we use on with holidays that have “Day” in the name, with days, dates, specific days, time, and when we have day + part of the day. Let’s check the examples first and then explain them:

Holidays with “Day”: “Our school will not work on Memorial Day.”

Days: “I start work on Mondays and finish on Fridays.”

Dates: “Is your birthday on August 2nd?”

Specific days: “Have fun on your anniversary!”

Time: “I always sleep late on the weekend.”

Day + part of the day: “We go to church on Sunday morning.”

As we can see from the examples, these time frames are not really general, but they are also not specific. For example, August 2nd refers to the entire day, 24 hours, and it is a bit general, but it is still more specific than if we just said “Is your birthday in August” because that would imply 31 days. Also, when we say Sunday morning, that is more specific than if we only said morning. It refers to a special morning.

And, lastly, we use at when we know exactly when something happens. It is usually a short time frame and it is very specific. We use at with hours, parts of the day, time, and holidays without “Day” in the name. Here we have some examples for at:

Hours: “Meet you there at 5 pm!”

Parts of the day: “I am at work at noon and go to sleep at midnight.”

Time: “At the moment, every seat is taken.”

Holidays without “Day”: “We open our gifts at Christmas.”

After reading these examples, it is clear that “at” is used with a very specific time, such as 5 pm, at the moment, at midnight. They do not show a period of time, we know exactly when something is happening.

Using in, on, and at may seem very difficult from time to time, but with the help of these tips, it will be easier than ever!

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