Prepositions and Time in English
It can be difficult when to know how to use the prepositions ‘at’, ‘in’ and ‘on’ at the best of times, but especially when talking about time. Here’s a basic guide as to when we use them, and some examples.
We use AT for precise times.
For example, you will always use ‘at’ for telling the time – we would say, ‘at 3 o’clock’, or ‘at ten fifty’. We also use it for precise times such as dinner time, lunch, midnight, noon, sunset, sunrise, and so on.
Many language learners make the mistake of saying things such as ‘I wake up at the morning’, which is not correct, as it is not specific enough. The morning is too long to be considered precise.
So, following that rule, we can look at some examples:
I go to bed at half past eleven every evening.
At sunrise, I was already awake and could see how beautiful the sky was.
I’ll see you at lunchtime, we have to talk about the meeting earlier.
You were supposed to meet me at seven, not quarter past.
We use IN for months, years, centuries, and long periods of time.
The months, years, and centuries are pretty self-explanatory. However, what denotes a long period of time? As you saw earlier, we can’t use ‘at’ for things like ‘morning’, so this means this counts as a long period of time. Therefore, we use ‘in’ for concepts such as the morning, afternoon, and evening but NOT night (sorry!). A week is also a longer period of time, as is a fortnight (fourteen days), and seasons.
We would also use it for things such as historic periods, like the Roman Era, or Middle Ages, for example.
In the Victorian period in England, women wore corsets and very long dresses.
I will see you in the evening, at about 8ish.
I never manage to do any exercise in summer, I just get too hot.
Susie doesn’t work in the morning, she works at night.
We use ON for days and dates, as well as specific historical dates.
This means that any time you say a day or date, you are safe with ‘on’. You can also use ‘on’ for birthdays. Historical dates would include things such as Independence Day (celebrated in the USA on the 4th of July), Christmas Day (but please note that the longer Christmas period would use the preposition ‘at’), and New Years’ Eve.
I was born on the 27th of August, in 1971.
Everybody gets a day off on the bank holiday Monday; it’s nice that we can have time to relax.
What are you going to do on New Years’ Day?
I hope to see you on your birthday.
Some things to take notice of:
The use of ‘at’ in the following expressions –
The stars come out at night.
At Christmas, all the family stays with my grandparents.
Nobody could hear anything because they were talking at the same time.
I never work at the weekend.
When morning, evening, and afternoon are used alone, they use the preposition ‘in’. However, when a day becomes involved, the preposition ‘on’ is used. This means whilst we say ‘I will see you in the morning’, we would say ‘I will see you on Tuesday morning’, if we were specific about the day.
The last thing to remember is that when we use the following words…
…we don’t need to use at/in/on!
I go home every Christmas to see my family (NOT I go home at every Christmas).
My brother is going to Mexico next July (NOT my brother is going to Mexico in next July).
I called you last night but you didn’t answer (NOT I called you at last night…).
Tommy isn’t going to be available this evening (NOT Tommy isn’t going to be available in this evening).