Prepositions of place – 'in', 'on', 'at'

A1-A2 Grammar: Prepositions of place – 'in', 'on', 'at'

Do you know how to use in, on and at to talk about location? Test what you know with interactive exercises and read the explanation to help you.

Look at these examples to see how we use these prepositions.

Please put the book on the shelf.
They live in Helsinki.
You should keep milk in the fridge.
Mette is studying at the library.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1


Read the explanation to learn more.

Grammar explanation

We can use the prepositions in, on and at to say where things are. They go before nouns.

I am in the kitchen.
My dog likes sleeping on the sofa.
The children eat lunch at school.


We use in to talk about a place that is inside a bigger space, such as a box, a house, a city or a country.

The clothes are in the wardrobe.
The children are playing in the park.
There's a bookshop in the shopping centre.
My grandmother was born in Sweden.

We also use in with other physical locations such as:

in the world
in water / the sea / a river / a lake / a pool
in the mountains / the countryside / a valley / the forest
in a car / a taxi


We use on to talk about location on a surface.

The books are on the desk.
We live on the fifth floor.
There are pictures on the wall.
She likes to sit on the floor.

We also use on for some types of public transport.

He's on the bus now.
You can't make phone calls on a plane.
They go to school on the train.

We also use on for lines (including rivers, borders, streets, etc.) and islands.

London is on the River Thames.
The Pyrenees are on the border of Spain and France.
There's a market on James Street.
I'd love to live on the Isle of Wight.


We use at in many common phrases, especially when we are talking about a place for a specific activity.

I'm at work.
She's working at home today.
The children are at school.
See you at the train station!
They're at the supermarket.
I met him at a party.

We also use at for addresses or exact positions.

I live at 15 Craig Street.
She's sitting at a desk.
He's waiting at the entrance.
Please sit at the back of the room.

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2


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Submitted by adebby on Mon, 11/09/2023 - 17:42


On is use for public transport but why is it in a car and in a taxi?
Please help

Hi adebby,

"On" is used for only some forms of public transport, not all of them. It's used for quite large vehicles (e.g. bus, train, plane, tram, boat).

I hope that helps.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by DoraX on Sat, 09/09/2023 - 14:41


Hello LearnEnglish team,
I would like to know what preposition we use with roads. Is it "on Park Street"?
I would also like to tell me if there is a difference among the place prepositions "next to", "beside" and "by"?
Thank you.

Hello DoraX,

Yes, we use 'on' when we're describing the location of a building etc. on a street. It is possible to use 'in the street' when you want to imply 'in the middle of the street' (as opposed to being on the pavement). For example, a parent might call to their child 'Hey - don't play in the street or a car might hit you'.


The three prepositions of place are very similar and the differences are quite subtle and more related to use than any fixed grammar rules. Next to is the most common; beside is a little less common and perhaps slightly more formal or literary; by tends to be used in certain specific contexts.

Next to and beside suggest that things adjoin each other - i.e. they are side by side from the speaker's perspective and very close to each other; there is nothing in between them.

By is a little more general, I would say. It suggests that things are close but not necessarily adjoining. We often use it in phrases like 'by the lake' and 'by the park'.


With language such as this it is hard or even impossible to provide hard and fast rules for use as it is more a question of convention and collocation than grammar. The best way to familiarise yourself with these kinds of items is to expose yourself to good language models by reading and listening to English as widely as possible. The more examples you come across, the more you will develop a feel for what sounds right, just as you did in your first language.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by narnu on Thu, 31/08/2023 - 18:56


why did you use "at" instead of "on" in the sentence " She is sitting at a desk"? You said that when we talk about location on a surface we use "on".
Can you explain,please?

Hi narnu,

When we say 'on the desk' we mean actually on top of it, not sitting on a chair beside it. Things like a computer, a pen, some paper, a clock, a cup of coffee can be found on desks. People, when they are working, usually do not sit on their desk but rather on a chair at their desk (i.e. beside it).

The only time you might get on your desk is when you need to reach something high up, like a light bulb or a high window.



The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by samaneh1994 on Sun, 20/08/2023 - 09:38


I get a bit confused.
You say talk about a place that is inside a bigger space we should use in.
So why did you use at for this example:
They're at the supermarket.
The supermarket is in city so according to the first sentence we should use in when we want talk about supermarket,shouldn't we?
And we dont understand why use at for meeting at bus stop or at train station.
Can you explain them again?
Thank you

Hi samaneh1994,

With many of these nouns, you can use both "in" or "at", but they have slightly different meanings. 

"At" gives the idea of the place as a point. You can imagine it as a point on a map. If you say They are at the train station or They're at the supermarket, "at" simply shows the location where they are. The main idea is not being enclosed inside a physical space (as with "in"), but with simply being in that location, rather than in any other location. Saying something like They're at the supermarket often gives the idea of a point on a journey, with the possibility of moving to another place before or after. So, if you are talking about where the people are right now in the context of their journey or travelling, "at" is often used.

"In" has the idea of being inside a larger three-dimensional space. If you say They are in the train station or They're in the supermarket, the idea is that they are physically inside those places. Compared to "at", "in" gives a stronger idea of being "inside" (i.e. not outside). For example, if you saw the people enter the train station, then the relevant idea is moving from outside to inside, and you would probably say They are in the train station (instead of "at").

Of course, everything that exists can be inside a bigger space such as the universe, so it's not simply this that makes us use "in". As mentioned above, we can use both "at" or "in" with many nouns, depending on whether we want to emphasise the location ("at") or the idea of being inside, enclosed or contained ("in").

I hope that helps to understand it.


LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Amnesia_Soon96 on Mon, 17/07/2023 - 06:32


Hello, may I know if its more precise to say “ I am on the bus/train/ elevator” or to say “ I am in the bus/train/elevator” or is it acceptable to use both of these prepositions interchangeably? My interpretation is that “on the bus” means being seated or standing on the floor inside the bus whilst “in the bus” simply means being physically present within the confines of the bus itself. As such, I believe both prepositions can be used interchangeably. Do enlighten me if I have any misconceptions about this and thank you for assisting with my query.