English students sometimes feel lost when using the prepositions in, on, and at.
Luckily, there are a few rules you can follow. Prepositions can be learned by topic. Topics can include transportation, location, time and date, and technology. Let’s look at some topics to get you back on the map!
For transportation, remember the following guidelines:
Use IN for private transportation.
- in a car, in a truck, in a taxi, in an Uber, or in a small boat, canoe, or kayak
For public transportation, use ON.
- on the bus, on a plane, on a ship or cruise, on a train, on the subway, on the trolley
Use ON for things that one person can sit or stand on to ride.
- on a bicycle, on a motorcycle, on a horse, on a surfboard, skateboard, or segway! 🙂
Use AT for places where you wait for transport.
- at the bus stop, at the taxi stand, at the airport, at the train station
Think of IN for enclosed spaces and places with borders, like rooms, towns, cities, counties, states, countries, and continents.
- in the kitchen, in San Diego, in California, in the U.S., in North America, in Europe
Use IN for geographical locations and bodies of water, if you’re swimming!
- in the mountains, in the forest, in the desert, in the water, in the lake, in the ocean
Use ON for street names, borders, and floors of buildings.
- on Broadway, on the Mexican border, on the first floor, on 10th Ave.
Use ON for surfaces.
- on the ground, on the floor, on the wall, on the beach (if you’re tanning!)
Use AT for specific locations, places of business, and stores.
- at the supermarket, at the beach, at the library
- at the zoo, at the restaurant, at the mall, at McDonalds, at the hospital
Times and Dates
Use IN for enclosed time periods.
- in December, in the summer, in 1997
Use ON for specific days, dates, and holidays.
- on Monday, on weekends, on January 22
- on my birthday, on Christmas, on vacation
Use AT for times of the day.
- at 6:00pm, at midnight (12:00am), at lunchtime (12pm)
- at night (but in the morning, in the afternoon, and in the evening)
Media and Technology
Use IN for paper media.
- in a book, in a newspaper, in a magazine, in a journal
Use ON for electronic media and technology.
- on the internet, on tv, on the radio, on the phone
- on social media, on facebook, instagram, whatsapp, etc.
Use AT or the @ symbol for websites, url’s, emails, and web addresses only.
You can learn more about advanced preposition use here.