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When (time and dates)

Level: elementary

We use phrases with prepositions as time adverbials:

  • We use at with:
clock times: at seven o'clock at nine thirty at fifteen hundred hours  
mealtimes: at breakfast at lunchtime at teatime  
these phrases: at night at the weekend at Christmas at Easter
  • We use in with:
seasons of the year: in (the) spring/summer/autumn/winter        
years, centuries, decades: in 2009 in 1998 in the 20th century in the 60s in the 1980s
months: in January/February/March etc.        
parts of the day: in the morning in the afternoon in the evening    
  • We use on with:
days: on Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday etc. on Christmas day on my birthday
dates: on the thirty-first of July on June the fifteenth    
Be careful!

We say at night when we are talking about all of the night:

When there is no moon, it is very dark at night.
He sleeps during the day and works at night.

but we say in the night when we are talking about a specific time during the night:

He woke up twice in the night.
I heard a funny noise in the night.

We often use a noun phrase as a time adverbial:

yesterday today tomorrow
last week/month/year this week/month/year next week/month/year
last Saturday this Tuesday next Friday
the day before yesterday   the day after tomorrow
one day/week/month    
the other day/week/month    

We can put time phrases together:

We will meet next week at six o'clock on Monday.
I heard a funny noise at about eleven o'clock last night.
It happened last week at seven o'clock on Monday night.

We use ago with the past simple to say how long before the time of speaking something happened:

I saw Jim about three weeks ago.
We arrived a few minutes ago.

We use in with a future form to say how long after the time of speaking something will happen:

I'll see you in a month.
Our train's leaving in five minutes.

When (time and dates)



Hi Teachers,

I've got some queries on the use of "this" + time period. Oxford defines the use of "this + time period" as "Used with periods of time related to the present". I suppose this means that it could refer to a time period just passed - as in "I did not go to school these few days" (referring to the past recent few days), or a time period that has begun and is in progress - as in "I'm busy this morning" (implying the morning has started and in progress, and that this person will likely be busy throughout the whole morning, or a time period that is due to commence in the near future - as in "they urged us not to give the kids any presents this (coming) christmast" (implying that while christmast has not begun, the author is referring to the impending christmast).

My queries are: (a) Is my understanding of the use of "this+ time periods", as described in my examples above, correct? (b) Also, regarding my last example, as in "this (coming) christmast", am I right to say that the coming is redundant, that is if I were to mean this next, immediate chirstmast that is approaching, using "this christmast" alone plus the context of the rest of my sentence, would be enough to convey my meaning, and that the use of coming is redundant?

Apologies for the lengthy queries, and thanks in advance for your advice.


Hello Tim,

Yes, I think your summary is a good one.

The use of 'coming' in that example is indeed redundant. It is a stylistic option.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Teachers!

When one says "last year" or "last night", he/she refers to the most recent year or night. But am I right to say that this does not tell a definite time? As in last year or last night can mean anytime within the year or night?



Hi Tim,

Yes, that is correct. If you say that something happened last week then it does not tell us what time or what day the event occured.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team


The rule on this page says that we use 'at night' for the whole night and 'in the night' for a particular time in the night. But the grammar section of Cambridge dictionary says that we use 'at night' for all the night in general and 'in the night' for a particular night'. Why is this difference?


Hi naghmairam,

I don't think there is a difference here. The rule is the same but is phrased slightly differently. We use 'at night' with a general meaning and 'in the night' when we are talking about a particular time or period during the night.


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

Hi LE team,

Choose the correct option:
I met my boyfriend on holiday last/in summer. (last summer is correct, according to the key)

So if I understand it right, "in" can't be used as this sentence refers to a specific summer, not to summer in general. But the option "I met my boyfriend on holiday in the summer" would be perfectly fine. Because when we talk about summer in general we can use both "in summer/in the summer" but when we talk about a specific summer (usually the last one or the one coming) we can only use "in the summer" but not "in summer". Is that correct?

Hi radovan1972,

Yes, that is correct. Well done!


Best wishes,


The LearnEnglish Team

'I was looking at my keyboard for long with fingers benumbed, in an idle Prague afternoon'
Is the article right over here? Is it acceptable or it 'must' be on an idle Prague afternoon will be the only correct option? Please help.