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

MultipleChoice_MjQ3NDE=

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.

in

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

on

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.

at 

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

MultipleChoice_MjQ3NDI=

Average: 4.1 (94 votes)
Do you need to improve your English grammar?
Join thousands of learners from around the world who are improving their English grammar with our online courses.

Submitted by isabelcazon76 on Tue, 16/07/2024 - 06:09

Permalink

Hello English Learning Team,  

I have some problems with prepositions used with addresses, some books say: He lives in Chapman Street while you mention that it is with on.

In some research, I got even more confused.

Thanks in advanced.

Isabel

Hi isabelcazon76,

In short, both "in" and "on" can be used. We can think of a street as both a large space containing things ("in the street"), and as a line shape ("on the street"). 

There may be some regional variation in usage, but as a British English speaker I would say that "He lives in Chapman Street" and "He lives on Chapman Street" are both perfectly acceptable. The Cambridge Dictionary and Longman Dictionary list examples with both "on" and "in".

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Submitted by ShetuYogme on Sun, 26/05/2024 - 09:32

Permalink

Hello LearnEnglish team,

Could you please clarify the use of on in the two sentences in Grammer Test 2. I got 6 out of 8 in this test. The two sentences are:

  • They have a lot of picture on there fridge.
  • Last summer we stayed in a cabin on a lake.

Why can't in be used in these two sentences? 

Next question: What is correct-- "on the internet" or "in the internet"; "on a website" or "in a website"; "on a video" or "in a video"?

Should I say In Grammar Test 2 or On Grammar Test 2?

I hope I will be able to understand these concepts very well after your response.

Thank you.

Hi ShetuYogme,

As the page explains above, "in" means something like "inside a bigger space". You could say There is food in the fridge, because the food is inside it, but pictures are normally put on the outside of the fridge, so "on" is the right answer. You could also say There are fish in the lake, because they are inside the water, but a cabin would be at the side of the lake, so "on" is used.

The most common phrases are on the internet and on a website. People sometimes use "in", especially if they wish to express a stronger sense of something being inside or within it, e.g. There are flaws in the website, but this is less common overall.

For videos, it's normally in the video. But you can also say on video, referring to the system of video more generally rather than a specific video (e.g. The interview was recorded on video).

For tests, it's normally "in". "On the test" is also used, but is less common.

I hope that helps. 

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thank you very much for this nice explanation!

What should I say: at the top of the page or on the top of the page? Why?

Is it at the beach or on the beach? In my opinion at the beach is correct. But I am not sure. Could you please explain?

Thank you.

Hi ShetuYogme,

It should be "at the top of the page". "At the top" means at the highest part. "On the top" means on the highest side or surface (e.g. on the top of the table).

Both "at the beach" and "on the beach" are possible. "At the beach" imagines the beach as a place, and "on the beach" imagines the beach as a flat area or surface. So, it should be "I love walking on the beach", because you walk on a surface, but it should be "We're at the beach" because this just involves the beach as a location.

A good dictionary can help with these sorts of questions. You might be interested in these pages from LDOCE on top and beach (other dictionaries are available too). Hope it helps.

Jonathan

LearnEnglish team

Thank you for this wonderful response explaining everything I had doubts about. LDOCE is wonderful and amazing.

I think the preposition of place is a very complex concept. If I have any trouble using these prepositions, can I ask my questions here again?

Thank you very much.

Hello ShetuYogme,

Yes, we're happy to try to help with questions. We just ask that you look in dictionaries and reference materials first, as often you can find answers there. But if you still have questions after that, please feel free to ask.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

Submitted by Basheer Ahmed on Tue, 05/12/2023 - 22:04

Permalink

Hello LearnEnglish team,

For "at" in the lesson, it is mentioned that it can be used to talk about 'a place for a specific activity'. Whereas, in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, for the word "hospital", a sentence has been used like this:

In a hospital: She works in a hospital in New York.

In my opinion, as it has been mentioned in the lesson above as well, according to the nature of the sentence, here "at" would be suitable, instead of "in".

Could you please clarify the difference between both of these words in the context of the sentence I have mentioned above.

Thank you.