Prepositions of Time

Prepositions of Time (At, In, On)

homesitemapcommon errors prepositions of time
The prepositions "at," "in," and "on" are regularly used in time expressions. For example:

"At" is used for precise times.

  • at 4 o'clock correct tick
  • at midnight correct tick
  • at sunrise correct tick
  • at the moment correct tick

"On" is used with days and dates.

  • on Sunday correct tick
  • on Wednesdays correct tick
  • on my birthday correct tick
  • on 5 November correct tick

"In" is used for months, years, centuries (i.e., long periods)

  • in June correct tick
  • in the winter correct tick
  • in 2022 correct tick
  • in the 19th century correct tick
If you're teaching these prepositions of time, it might be useful to highlight that the order "at," "on," and "in" generally corresponds to short periods (or a highly accurate expression), medium periods (or a fairly accurate expression), and long periods (or an inaccurate expression).
prepositions of time

Your Go!

It's your go. Select the correct preposition:

More Examples with "At"

"At" is generally used with a short period or a highly accurate expression:
  • The train arrives at 10 o'clock. correct tick
  • Jane raised her hand at the same time. correct tick
  • The birds fly to their roots at sunset. correct tick

More Examples with "On"

"On" is generally used with a medium period (often a day or a date) or a fairly accurate expression:
  • Halloween is on 31 October. correct tick
  • We have tennis practice on Tuesdays. correct tick
  • It always seems to rain on New Year's Day. correct tick

More Examples with "In"

"In" is generally used with a long period or an inaccurate expression:
  • We're going to Croatia in January. correct tick
  • Albert Einstein was born in 1879. correct tick
  • The telescope was invented in the 17th century. correct tick
These guidelines are quite well-observed. However, there are exceptions, which should be learned as set phrases (or collocations, i.e., words that sound natural when used together).

Set Time Phrases

Here are some set phrases that are not obvious fits for the guidelines presented above.

Set Phrases with "At":

at any timeYou can visit me at any time.
at dinnertimeJack will meet you at dinnertime.
at lunchtimeWhere are you going at lunchtime?
at nightThe vampires come out at night.
at some pointI need to talk to you at some point.
at that timeI was not working there at that time.
at this timeAt this time, I cannot say why the contract was cancelled.

Set Phrases with "On":

on the hourThe bus comes on the hour.
on timeThe train is on time.

Set Phrases with "In":

in a few daysLet's meet up again in a few days.
in five minutesI will arrive in five minutes.
in the afternoonIt is going to rain in the afternoon.
in the eveningIn the evening, I normally study.
in the futureWill robots rule the world in the future?
in the morningThe robin always sings loudly in the morning.
in the pastIn the past, I owned a horse.

No Preposition

Some set phrases have no preposition.

Set Phrases with No Preposition:

a week agoI was in London a week ago.
a year from nowI wonder what I'll be doing a year from now.
the day after tomorrowShe will meet you the day after tomorrow.
the day before yesterdayI was paid the day before yesterday.
laterSee you later.
long agoLong ago, people lived in these huts.
nowadaysNowadays, nobody eats the carp in these lakes.
recentlyI was in Scotland recently.
soonI will call you soon.
todayShe will sign the contract today.
tomorrowWe're all going to the zoo tomorrow.
The preposition is dropped after the following adjectives:
everyI have tennis practice on every Tuesday.
lastWe went to Italy in last year.
mostShe trains at most lunchtimes.
nextWe are working in New York in next month.
thisWhere are you going in this spring?
In these examples, the preposition you might have expected based on the time period has been deleted. For example, in the first example, you might have expected "on" because "on" is used with days like "Tuesday." However, when "every" is used, the preposition is dropped.
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This page was written by Craig Shrives.

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