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=

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

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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.

Hello Basheer Ahmed,

Both forms are possible, but I think there is a subtle difference.

If I heard 'work in a hospital' I would not assume that the person is a doctor. Perhaps they are, but perhaps they are a cleaner, a manager or a cook. I would understand that 'in a hospital' tells me the location of the work but not its nature.

If I heard 'at a hospital' I would probably assume that the person is a medical professional of some kind. That's not to say that another person could not say this, but I don't think a doctor, nurse etc would use 'in'.

These are nuanced differences of convention and use rather than questions of grammar, so it's really a case of developing a feel for them through contact with the language rather than learning fixed rules.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish

Submitted by NatalieP on Tue, 21/11/2023 - 15:44

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You haven’t mentioned time. What about on Friday or at the weekend?

Submitted by naveenedin on Thu, 02/11/2023 - 22:30

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Hello there, I get confused with using ‘on’ in contexts such as names written on a paper or excel sheet. For example it is on ‘T drive’ or ‘in’ T drive when referring to a file in a computer. I would say ‘the file is on T drive’.

Any tips on how to clarify in or on in terms of location.

Thanks
N

Hello naveenedin,

You are right -- we say that a file is on the T drive. We also say a name is on a paper or Excel sheet, though it's possible to say some information is in a spreadsheet. It is difficult, but don't lose heart because in the end, people will understand.

Best wishes,
Kirk
LearnEnglish team

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Submitted by hasnaa sakr on Fri, 20/10/2023 - 20:54

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the childern are playing in the swimming pool.
the gift in the box.
the cat in the box.
the money in the wallet.
my grandmother was born in egypt.
my bestfriend was working in germany.

on
the laptop is on the table.
the cup of tea on the desk.
there are pictures of certifiesc on the well.
he's on the plane now.
I can't get answer phone on the car.
there's police office on james street.

at
I'm working at home today.
I'm at car.
I'm at gym.
I'm sitting at the table.

Submitted by Aung Qui on Sat, 14/10/2023 - 15:31

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Hello Learn English Team,I would like to know the meaning of Their house is on the James River.I don't get that.