Prepositions Made Easy: In, On, and At
by JUSTIN on JUNE 17, 2013
Are prepositions really so difficult? What if I told you that IN JUST 5 MINUTES I could help you solve some of your most confusing preposition problems?

English learners everywhere are confused about prepositions, and members of the Real Life English International Community always say it’s one of their biggest difficulties.

But with the right strategies, prepositions DO NOT need to be so complicated. If you take a few minutes to learn a few tricks, and visualize the problem in a new way, your experience learning prepositions will be a lot easier. This is gonna be fun! Ready?

Today, we’re going to explore how the prepositions AT, ON, and IN are used with TIME and PLACE, and use a formula that works in around 90% of cases. It’s not perfect, but it gives you a great foundation to learn the exceptions.

Given the fact that most people are visual learners, and most prepositions are best taught in a visual way, we’ll also use graphic organizers and a video lesson to teach this.

The Inverted Pyramid

Before we explain a bit more, let’s take a good look at the picture one more time below. Try to get a general idea of the organization and proportion.

The first thing I want you to recognize, and try your best to visualize as you learn these, there is a general flow with both time and location from general to specific. We’re going to explain it in the following way, first with time, then with location:

The TOP, which is BIGGER and more GENERAL
The MIDDLE, which is SMALLER and MORE SPECIFIC (ON)
The BOTTOM, which is SMALLEST and the MOST SPECIFIC (AT)
The image used is the The Atonin Time Pyramid from Marcelo Montecinos at phrazzleme.com

Prepositions of Time

IN- The pyramid’s TOP (wider), which is BIGGER and more GENERAL:

Description: Bigger periods of time: Centuries, Decades, Years, Months
Examples: in the 20th century, in the 1980’s, in March, in the third week of April, in the future
Exceptions: in the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon
ON- The pyramid’s MIDDLE part, which is SMALLER and MORE SPECIFIC:

Description: Days, or periods of time shorter than three days
Examples: on my birthday, on Saturday, on the weekend (United States), on June 8th
Exceptions: on my lunch break, on time
AT- The pyramid’s BOTTOM (pointed), the SMALLEST, and the MOST SPECIFIC:

Description: Specific times or small time periods.
Examples: at 9:00 PM, at lunch, at dinner, at the start of the party, at sunrise, at the start of the movie, at the moment
Exceptions: at night, at the weekend (England)
Prepositions of Location

IN – The TOP (wider), which is BIGGER and more GENERAL:

Description: In larger areas (countries, states, cities, neighborhoods)
Examples: in the United States, in Miami, in my neighborhood
Exceptions: in downtown (“I work in downtown”)
ON – The MIDDLE, which is SMALLER and MORE SPECIFIC:

Description: a longer area, street, beach, river
Examples: on Broadway Street, on the beach, on my street
AT – The pyramid’s BOTTOM (pointed), the SMALLEST, and the MOST SPECIFIC:

Description: the address or specific location, specific points.
Examples: at 345 broadway street, at the store, at my house
Prepositions of Placement

The mind map pyramid below explains TIME in the same way we did above (only this one is not inverted), but it also introduces prepositions PLACE/PLACEMENT, which we will focus on here.

IN – for enclosed spaces and personal modes of transportation

Enclosed Space: in the kitchen, in the house, the water is in the glass
Personal Modes of Transportation: get in the car, my friend is in the taxi
ON – for surfaces and public modes of transportation

Surfaces: on the floor, on the wall, the book is on the table, on a page, I put on my clothes (my clothes are on my body)
Public Modes of Transportation: on the bus, on the plane, on a boat, on a ship,
Exceptions: on my motorcycle, on my bike (these are personal modes of transportation, but we use “on”)
AT – for specific point (the same as prepositions of location)

at the bus stop, at the cinema, at the corner, at the top of the hill, at the mall
Video Lesson Explaining IN-ON-AT (7:00)

Now that we’ve simplified the use of prepositions IN, ON, and AT with mind maps and simple explanations, here’s a short and simple video lesson from English For Brazilians creator, John Clites. (Note: this video was made for Brazilians, but everything in it is applicable to English learners from ALL countries)

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