Prepositions. Free English Lesson with Test and Certificate.

Quick 'in on at' prepositions study for SAT, IELTS, TESOL and other exams.

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How to use prepositions in English

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Suzy says:


Prepositions include little words like 'IN', 'ON' and 'AT'. Prepositions make sentences clearer. In this test you'll see rules for prepositions. For example, you would say, "She lives IN America," ... but you'd say, "She lives AT 57 North Street."

Here are some more examples:

- The last earthquake here was IN 2011.
- My birthday this year is ON a Saturday.
- I will meet you AT noon today.
- IN the afternoon, I was AT a shop ON North Street.


Your English lesson about 'in on at' Prepositions

Hello and welcome to the Preposition ‘In – On – At’ lesson!  

In this lesson you will learn many of the general rules for these three prepositions. But, remember to pay attention to the examples and not just the rules. We want to learn to speak English, not only take English tests. Let’s begin!

First, here’s a general overview of how in, on and at work together. All three of these words are used to describe times and places, generally from most broad to most specific. Have a look at the following examples:

This kitten was born in 2014, on January 3rd at 5:00pm.
In summer, on a hot day, I was at the beach.
In the afternoon, I was at an arcade on Main Street.
I’m at a bus stop on a busy street in Beijing, China. 

Usually, in is the broadest, on is more specific, and at is the most specific of all.

When we need a preposition of time:

We use in for centuries, decades, years, months, and weeks:

*in the 1700’s
*in the 1980’s Decades
*in 2011
*in February
*in 3 weeks

We use on for specific days (or the weekend):

*on my birthday
*on Saturday
*on Christmas Day
*on the weekend 
We use at for specific times:

*at 7:00 
*at 10:15
*at a quarter to three
*at noon

When we need a preposition of place:

We use in for country, city, and neighborhood:

*in the United States
*in London
*in the historical district

We use on for streets:

*on Main Street
*on Schoolhouse Lane
*on the corner
*on 10th Avenue 

We use at for specific addresses or locations:

*2317 Walnut Street
*at the library
*at school

Of course, things aren’t always this clear, easy and simple!

I can be at school, but you may not know exactly where I am. Maybe I’m in the school parking lot, or on the school football field, or at the school library.

So, what we’ll do now is look at each word individually to give you a better understanding of how it functions. Then we’ll compare them in similar sentences and see how they’re connected.

Let’s begin with in. Think of something being inside something, or between two points in time. Notice how you’ll have a pretty good idea of where things are – or when they’re happening – in the following examples.

He likes to sit in the park and read the newspaper in the mornings.

In the summer, she watered the plants in her garden.

She still had tears in her eyes in the days after the funeral.

She looked beautiful in her wedding dress.

In all of the previous examples, we know generally what’s happening and when, but we still don’t know exact times or locations.

Have a look at these next examples:

Is this shirt available in blue?

The ducks were walking in a line.

Our class usually sits in a circle, so we can see each other when we talk.

In is also used to indicate a shape, color, or size. Think of something being “inside” the container of a size, shape or color.

Try this next set:

He’s in a meeting right now.

In selecting a new pet, it’s important to look for a healthy animal.

In can also be used to describe being in the middle of an activity. This usage is mostly found in professional settings, though.

This last set is a little more complicated:

Children believe in the Tooth Fairy.

Are you interested in football?

He’s in a bad mood today.

In is also used to indicate a belief, opinion, interest, or feeling.


Next, let’s have a closer look at the word on. When we are talking about time, we use on for specific days.

Halloween is on a Saturday in 2015. It’s in October, but on a Saturday.

The children play soccer in the afternoon on Wednesdays.

We always eat turkey on Thanksgiving.

On is also used if something is on top of or on the surface of another thing:

The birds are sitting in a line on the roof.

The paint on the wall is starting to chip off.

There’s a hat on the head of the man in the water!

This woman has her hands on her face.

Look at this next set of examples:

He’s on the phone right now.

She was on the computer all day on Tuesday.

He is a famous actor on TV.

I’m looking for something to listen to on the radio.


More prepositions exercises

This last set is a bit more complicated. Watch carefully:

All of the rugs in this store are on sale.

This house is on fire!

On can also express a state or condition something is in.


Finally, let’s cover at. Remember that this is the most specific of our three prepositions:
Meet me at the park at 12 p.m.

It’s great to spend the day at the beach.

At dinnertime, the couple talked about their future.

I start my day at the office at sunrise.

It’s easy to see the moon in the sky at night.

This next set is a little bit different:

The girl smiled at me when I gave her a flower.

The cat looked at me.

He pointed at his knee and showed me where it hurt.

As you can see, at can also be used to express action directed toward a specific object.

This last set is a bit more complicated:

The girl is good at drawing.

I’m not very good at shooting a basketball.

In this case, we’re talking about a specific action or activity, but the focus is on your skill level.


It’s story time

Now that we’ve seen each of these prepositions individually let’s see how they are used in a short story.  As you read the following story, pay attention to how the prepositions are used.

Andy was on his way to school in Beijing.  He was walking fast, and thinking about all his classes.  When he stopped at the corner, he looked at all the cars on the road.  As he stood on the corner, he looked at all the people waiting next to him. He noticed that he was breathing much heavier than everyone else.

Then, he remembered that it had been difficult for him to breathe when he played basketball at the park on Sunday.  He was usually very good at basketball, but on that day he couldn’t catch his breath and he played poorly.  It was hot on the basketball court that day, but he was surprised that he became tired so quickly.  Usually, Andy was always in a good mood after playing basketball, but when his friends invited him to meet them at a restaurant after the game on Sunday he decided not to go and he got on the bus and went home. 


Now, when the light changed, Andy crossed the street.  He began to walk at a fast pace, but again he started to feel his heart beating in his chest.  He had seen shows on TV where people had heart attacks, but they were always old men.  He told himself that young people didn’t have serious health problems. 

That’s the end of the lesson on prepositions.

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