Prepositions of Time

by Craig Shrives

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Prepositions of Time (At, In, On)

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

"At" is used for precise times.

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

"On" is used with days and dates.

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

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

  • in June
  • in the winter
  • in 2022
  • in the 19th century
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.
  • Jane raised her hand at the same time.
  • The birds fly to their roots at sunset.

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.
  • We have tennis practice on Tuesdays.
  • It always seems to rain on New Year's Day.

More Examples with "In"

"In" is generally used with a long period or an inaccurate expression:
  • We're going to Croatia in January. in 1955.
  • Albert Einstein was born in 1955.
  • The telescope was invented in the 17th century.
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":

PhraseExample
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":

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

Set Phrases with "In":

PhraseExample
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:

PhraseExample
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:
AdjectiveExample
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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See Also

Prepositions of place Prepositions Prepositions for kids Adjectives for kids Adverbs for kids Conjunctions for kids Nouns for kids Pronouns for kids Interjections for kids Verbs for kids

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