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)

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Submitted by Vinnie75 on Fri, 02/04/2021 - 22:14

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I am confused with the preposition "in" for the time expressions. For example, Our train is leaving in five minutes. (I can understand this sentence) BUT The students finished their assignments in three days??? This sentence I dont understand because it is the past tense. I thought it was for the future tense. For example, the clerk finished a project in a week. Please explain to me this one clearly. The clerk will finish it in a week (This means they will finish it by next week). What about the past tense? A girl read the whole book in a month.?? The boys hiked in the forest in six hours. ?? Thanks

Hello Vinnie75,

It's possible to use in with past forms as well as future.

When we use in with future forms it can have to meanings, depending on the context: to show how long after the time of speaking a task is done, or to show how long it will take to complete:

I'll do it in three days. [either it starts in three days from now or it will take three days to complete, depending on the context]

 

When we use in with past forms it only tells us how long a task took:

They did it in three days. [the job took three days to complete]

For the second meaning in the past we would need to use a verb like promise:

They promised to do it in three days.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi Peter, thank you for posting your messages. I think I understand it a little better. For example, today is 3rd of April. I am going to USA for a holiday in two weeks. (I will go to USA on the 17th of April). It is the duration of time in the past. For example, the day was on the 5th of January, we made a project in four days. (We have done a project on the 9th of January)?? On that day, we rode a bike in two hours. (from 9am to 11am on that day).. It is very similar sentence as "We rode a boke for two hours" and "We rode a bike in two hours". It is a bit strange expression. What difference between?

Hello again Vinnie75,

Your understanding is correct apart from one point. We don't use 'in' to talk about the duration of an activity, but the duration of time it took to achieve a goal. Thus, we would say 'we rode a bike for two hours' (not 'in'). However, we could say 'we rode to the top of the hill in two hours', because this describes a completed task or goal.

duration of an activity: for

time taken to achieve a goal or complete a task: in

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by Salum Hilali on Tue, 26/01/2021 - 18:22

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I would to know more about the use of on.I saw one post on Facebook page of Chelsea and Liverpool,they used the following prepositions 1.On this day 7 years ago we ........... 2.On this day in 1990 he was born...... 3.15 years Today ........ So is it possible not to use on in these sentences. So I can say This day without is it incorrect?

Hello Salum Hilali,

In general, you need to use 'on' in sentences 1 and 2, and also in similar sentences. I'm afraid it's really difficult to generalise about all sentences, as exactly how we say things depends a lot on the situation the sentence is used in.

You might find this page in the Cambridge Dictionary helpful.

Hope this helps.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by RamyLarrom on Sun, 03/01/2021 - 20:31

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I want to share old pictures and I want to say that this pictures were taken 5 years ago. Which one is correct: On this week 5 years ago , or In this week 5 years ago .

Hi RamyLarrom,

I think I'd probably say Five years ago this week, ... . 'This week' can be used as a time adverbial, without a preposition, so I wouldn't use in or on here.

Does that make sense?

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Hi sir Jonathan, When someone read that sentence it feels like there's more words to this, It doesn't feel like It talks about a photo above . Did you understand what I want to say sir ?

Hi RamyLarrom,

Oh, I see :) Then, I'd just write Five years ago this week (without continuing the sentence).

Best wishes,

Jonathan

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Y74629Y on Mon, 26/10/2020 - 17:54

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Hello, I need help differentiating the difference between an adverb of time and an adverbial of time. For example, 'He only noticed yesterday', is yesterday an adverb or adverbial? Another one I'm stumped on is the word 'then' being used to refer to the term 'next'. E.g. 'Then he went off to the shop'. Is this an adverb or adverbial of time? Thank you
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Submitted by Peter M. on Tue, 27/10/2020 - 08:08

In reply to by Y74629Y

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Hello Y74629Y,

The distinction is quite simple, I think. An adverb is a single word which modifies a verb or a clause/sentence. An adverbial is a word or a group of words with the same function. In other words, all adverbs are adverbials.

 

In your examples, 'yesterday' and 'then' are both adverbs as they are single words. They are also adverbials, as all adverbs are part of the larger group which we call adverbials.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for getting back to my comment. I thought that might be the case but I had that worry at the back of my mind. Thanks again!
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Submitted by CHÉKYTAN on Thu, 03/09/2020 - 14:33

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Dear Sir, Greetings! Is there any order for time phrases in the following sentence? We will meet "next week" "at six o'clock" "on Monday". can we write the same sentence like, "We will meet at six o'clock on Monday next week"?

Hello Chekytan,

You can use these three phrases in several different orders and people would understand them all. I think it'd be clearer, though, if you put 'next week' and 'on Monday' next to each other (it doesn't really matter which goes first), since they both refer to a day and the other phrase refers to a time. 

When there's a prepositional phrase that refers to time (e.g. 'in the afternoon') and another prepositional phrase that refers to a place (e.g. 'to the beach'), usually the place phrase comes before the time phrase: 'We're going to the beach in the afternoon' is more natural than 'We're going in the afternoon to the beach'. The second one isn't really wrong, but native speakers almost always use the first order instead of the second one.

All the best,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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Submitted by OlaIELTS on Mon, 13/07/2020 - 01:46

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It's really educative.

Submitted by DebbieV on Thu, 18/06/2020 - 10:03

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Why is it: In the evenings I never take work home with me. (evenings is plural) vs: I'm usually at work by 8 in the morning. (morning is singular) What's the difference and rule for the singular vs plural time indicator? Or are both singular and plural correct in both sentences? I can't seem to find and answer to the question after extensive research.

Hello DebbieV

When we make a day of the week plural after the preposition 'on', it refers to repeated events. For example, 'I go to the market on Fridays' means I go there every Friday, whereas 'I'm going to the market on Friday' refers to my plan for one specific Friday. Actually, quite often, people leave out the preposition 'on' and just say the plural day of the week ('I go to the market Fridays').

I'm not sure I'd say 'evenings' (which is not a day of the week) in the first sentence you ask about, but it doesn't sound wrong to me and I'd understand it to mean 'every evening' -- though of course the adverb 'always' also makes this clear.

In the second case you ask about, 'in the morning' is another way of saying 'a.m.' -- in this case, 'morning' (or any other time of day) isn't used in the plural in any situation that I can think of.

Does that help you make sense of it?

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by anna from germany on Wed, 08/04/2020 - 11:35

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Hello, are these sentences correct: On the next day I went to see my friend. At the next day I went to see my friend. The next day I went to see my freind. Thank you, Anna
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Submitted by Kirk on Wed, 08/04/2020 - 15:23

In reply to by anna from germany

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Hello Anna

The last one is the best choice -- normally, a preposition isn't used before 'the next day'.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Dean on Fri, 17/05/2019 - 23:35

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"the end of the month"- could mean the week of the 23-31st. "the last week of the month" So what preposition should i use?
Hello Dean, The correct preposition is 'at': > I'll be back at the end of the month. ~ The term is not precisely defined and so the precise meaning depends on the context in which it is used. ~ Peter The LearnEnglish Team
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Submitted by Smiley1 on Fri, 01/03/2019 - 01:03

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Is our meeting on schedule? On time? I'm sometimes confused with these expressions. The other day, 'on the schedule?' slipped out of my mouth. How strange does it sound? Can anybody tell me?

Hello Smiley1,

The correct terms are, as you say, on schedule and on time.

If you say on the schedule then it is a mistake, but not one which would stop people understanding you.

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mFred on Thu, 21/02/2019 - 13:57

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Hello LearnEngliah Team, I’m new here but I stumbled upon your site when I entered a question via google. Which is the correct grammar., 1. Knock and take a 8 seconds break......Before the next 2. Knock and take an eight seconds break.......Before the next 3. Knock and take the eight seconds break........ Before the next And please give me the correct grammar to use..... me and my friends can’t seem to agree on any., using a before the figure 8, an before the word eight which happens to start with a vowel, or to use ‘the’ an indefinite article though there’s no agreed rule that one ought to wait for a set of eight seconds before their next knock. Please help. Thanks.

Hello mFred

The second one is the best one, though in standard British English the word 'seconds' would be 'second' (in the singular). Units that are used as part of a noun modifier usually go in the singular -- this is why 'second' is better here. Another example is 'a twenty-kilo sack of rice' or 'a one-litre bottle'.

The indefinite article 'an' goes with the noun 'break'. But since 'break' has the noun modifier 'eight seconds' before it, and 'eight seconds' begins with a vowel sound, we use 'an' instead of 'a'.

I hope that helps you and your friends!

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team