How to use AT, ON and IN (3: Examples & notes)

Examples of at, on, in for time and place
  1. I climbed Kimpozan on 23rd May.
  2. My brother got married on Saturday.
  3. My brother got married the day before yesterday. (no at, in or on)
  4. I had lunch at 11:30.
  5. I was born in 1987.
  6. I’d like to go somewhere in summer.
  7. My family lives at 133, Any Street, Anytown.
  8. We are on the 12th floor in the Materials Science building.
  9. I’m sitting on a chair in Room 1213.
Explanation of “relative time” and “relative place”

The meaning of an expression such as “today”, “tomorrow” or “next week” depends on the day you say it. (If “today” is 26th May, then “tomorrow” means 27th May, etc.). These are relative expressions. If you say “26th May 2009”, this has the same meaning whenever you say it, so it is not a relative expression.

Similarly, expressions of place such as “here”, “in the next room”, etc are relative and the meanings depend on where you are when you say them.

As we saw in the previous two sections, relative expressions of time and place don’t need AT, IN or ON.

Forms of transport using on and in
I went there…
… on the train.
… on the bus.
in the car.
… on a ship.
… on my bike.
… on a plane.
… on foot.
… on horseback.

Ordinal numbers
1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th… and don’t forget 21st, 22nd, 23rd, 24th.

Pronunciation of dates

1800 “eighteen hundred”
1900 “nineteen hundred”
1903 “nineteen oh three”
1987 “nineteen eighty-seven”
2000 “two thousand”
2003 “two thousand (and) three”
2009 “two thousand (and) nine”
… when will we start saying “twenty” instead of “two thousand”? I don’t know! 🙂

Download these notes as a PDF.

Try a test to check your understanding.

How to use AT, ON and IN (2: Place)

The usage of AT, ON and IN for expressions of place is similar to that for expressions of time.

Where?

AT is used for precise DETAILS:

address:

* I live at 32, High Street


details of location: (Imagine you are trying to explain to a friend where your home is so that (s)he can find it.)

* The house is at the end of the street
* My room is at the back/front of the house, at the top of the stairs


places of work, home, places to visit:

* at work, school, university, home
* at (Kumamoto) University
* at the cinema, at the zoo
* I spent today at work.
* I am a student at Kumamoto University.
* I am sitting at my desk.


ON is used when an object is physically ‘ON TOP OF‘ another

* My apartment is on the third floor.
* We all live on Earth.
* Robinson Crusoe lived on a small island for several years.
* The book is on the table.


It is also used for directions

* on the right/left


IN is used when something is ‘INSIDE‘ a larger space

* I live in Kumamoto, in Japan, in Asia, in the northern hemisphere…
* in space, in the desert, in the sea, in the house, in the lab


Also note the expression ‘in the middle’

NO WORD is needed for:

* here
* upstairs/downstairs

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How to use AT, ON and IN (1: Time)

How to use AT, ON and IN for time expressions

When?

AT is used for precise TIMES (written in hours and minutes)

* I have a meeting at 5 p.m.
* This bus leaves from Kumamoto at 12 noon and arrives in Fukuoka at 2 p.m.


It’s also used for special seasons of the year

* at Christmas, at New Year (but ON Christmas Day, ON New Year’s Day, IN summer etc. – see below)


Some other expressions with ‘at’

* at the weekend
* at the moment, at present
* at the beginning/end of the week/holidays etc.


ON is used for DAYS

* on Monday, on 1st January, on a weekday, on New Year’s Day
* I usually play tennis on Tuesdays. (implies a regular scheduled event)
* I was born on 15th June.


IN is usually used for LONGER PERIODS: months, years, decades and even centuries

* in January, in (the) spring, in 1980, in the last few years, in the 1960s, in the 21st century
* in the past, in the future
* I like to go skiing in winter.


It’s also used in the expression ‘in the middle’ (of anything)

* in the middle of the day/week/20th century, etc.


It’s used for most parts of the day

* in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening (but AT night)


NO WORD is needed for RELATIVE times

* now
* today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day before yesterday
* this week, next week, last week
* this year, next year, last year
* I have to hand in my report tomorrow.

Download this file as a PDF.

Where and when

When? AT is used for precise TIMES (hours and minutes)
  • I have a meeting at 5 p.m.
  • This train leaves from Sendai at 12:00 and arrives in Tokyo at 14:43.
It’s also used for special seasons of the year
  • at Christmas, at New Year (but ON Christmas Day, ON New Year’s Day)
Some other expressions with ‘at’
  • at the weekend
  • at the moment, at present
  • at the beginning/end of the week/holidays etc.
ON is used for DAYS
  • on Monday, on 1st January, on a weekday, on New Year’s Day
  • I usually play tennis on Tuesdays.
  • I was born on 15th June.
IN is usually used for LONGER PERIODS: months, years, decades and even centuries
  • in January, in (the) spring, in 1980, in the last few years, in the 1960s, in the 21st century
  • in the past, in the future
  • I like to go skiing in winter.
It’s also used in the expression ‘in the middle’
  • in the middle of the day/week/20th century, etc.
It’s used for most parts of the day
  • in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening (but AT night)
NO WORD is needed for RELATIVE times
  • now
  • today, yesterday, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day before yesterday
  • this week, next week, last week
  • this year, next year, last year
  • I have to hand in my report tomorrow.
Where? AT is used for precise DETAILS: address:
  • I live at 32, High Street
details of location:
  • The house is at the end of the street
  • My room is at the back/front of the house, at the top of the stairs
places of work, home, places to visit:
  • at work, school, university, home
  • at Tohoku University
  • at the cinema, at the zoo
  • I spent today at work.
  • I am a student at Tohoku University.
  • I am sitting at my desk.
ON is used when an object is ‘ON TOP OF‘ another
  • My apartment is on the third floor.
  • We all live on Earth.
  • Robinson Crusoe lived on a small island for several years.
  • The book is on the table.
It is also used for directions
  • on the right/left
IN is used when something is ‘INSIDE‘ a larger space
  • I live in Yagiyama, in Sendai, in Tohoku, in Japan, in Asia, in the northern hemisphere…
  • in space, in the desert, in the sea, in the house, in the lab
Also note the expression ‘in the middle’ NO WORD is needed for:
  • here
  • upstairs/downstairs
Test yourself: in, on, at or nothing?
  1. Please come to my office ___ 2 o’clock ___ tomorrow.
  2. I was born ___ August 1st.
  3. It snows a lot ___ northern Japan ___ winter.
  4. The head office of the bank is ___ no. 435, Aoba-dori Ichiban-cho.
  5. There is a pile of books ___ the desk.
  6. Leonardo da Vinci’s most famous painting is ___ the Louvre Museum ___ Paris.
  7. I was born ____ 1977, ____ February.
  8. I was born ____ 2nd April, 1982.
  9. Professor Tsuchida is giving a lecture ____ 5 p.m. ____ today.
  10. I live ____ a two-room apartment. It is ___ the fourth floor, ____ the front of the building, so I have a good view of the sea.
  11. Please wait for me ____ downstairs.
  12. I will visit my parents ____ New Year and we will have a special meal ___ New Year’s Day.
  13. I spend weekdays ____ work but I don’t work ____ Saturdays or Sundays.
  14. I am going to visit some friends ____ Nagoya ____ the weekend.
  15. I am planning to go to Tokyo ____ next week.
  16. Some time ____ the future, I would like to go to China.
  17. Yesterday I woke up ___ 5 o’clock ___ the morning.
  18. I have a meeting ___ 10 a.m. ___ Tuesday.
  19. Neil Armstrong walked ___ the moon ____ 1969.
  20. A visitor is coming to our company ____ tomorrow.
  21. Please come and sit ___ this desk ___ here. You can put your books ____ this shelf and your computer ____ the desk.
  22. My house is ___ the end of the street, ____ the right.
  23. Many technological changes occurred ____ the 20th century. ____ the UK, ____ the beginning of the century, many people did not travel very far. ____ now, most people have a car and ____ summer, many people spend time on holiday ____ foreign countries.
  24. I am very busy ___ the moment.