When do we use at / in / on? Prepositions of time & place explained – Grammar for IELTS

Prepositions in English (i.e. small words like at, in, on etc. that are placed before nouns) can be challenging even for advanced English language learners. In fact, one of the most common mistakes in the IELTS Writing and IELTS Speaking test is using the prepositions incorrectly. Of course, you could lose marks if such mistakes are consistent.

This article focuses on the words at, in, on and covers the basic rules about when we use them to talk about time & place. At the end of the article, you’ll find questions for you to practise answering using the above words correctly. If you need guidance for your IELTS preparation, check out this complete IELTS preparation course. The instructor, an experienced IELTS teacher and IELTS examiner, takes you through all the best tips & techniques of all the modules of the IELTS test. Accompanied with the course is a 400-page book with extra practice material that you can study and achieve a high IELTS band score.

When do we use in?
in -preposition of time & place

When we talk about places, we use the word in before:

  • Countries & Cities e.g. There are many famous museums in France, especially in Paris.
  • Rooms e.g. I prefer reading in the living room than in my bedroom.
  • Buildings e.g. You can see the paintings of Van Gogh in this museum.
  • Closed spaces e.g. I like sitting in the garden.
  • in a car e.g. He listens to the radio in his car while driving.

When we talk about time, we use the word in before:

  • Months e.g. I’m attending a seminar in June.
  • Seasons e.g. I usually go skiing in the winter.
  • Years e.g. There were no smartphones in the 1990s.
  • Times of the day e.g. It is colder in the evening.

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When do we use on?
on - preposition of place & time

When we talk about places, we use the word on before:

  • Transport e.g. I saw Mike yesterday, he was on a bike!
  • Surface e.g. Don’t place your bag on the floor.

When we talk about time, we use the word on before:

  • Dates e.g. I’ve got dental appointment on 15th July.
  • Days e.g. There’s lots of traffic on Monday mornings .
When do we use on?

When we talk about places, we use the word at before:

  • School, home, work, university e.g. I met my boyfriend when I was at school.
  • Airport, station, bus stop e.g. We can have coffee at the airport before our flight.
  • Party, door e.g. He’s waiting at the door.

When we talk about time, we use the word at before:

  • Times e.g. Let’s meet at 8pm tonight.
  • Festival periods e.g. The town is much prettier at Christmas.
  • Weekend e.g. I’m always free at the weekends.
  • Night e.g. I could never study at night.

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Practice questions!

Test yourself by answering these personal questions written and orally, using the right prepositions (on, in, at).

  1. When and where were you born?
  2. What time do you usually get up during the week?
  3. Where do you usually have breakfast?
  4. What time of day do you usually meet your friends?
  5. What days of the week do you usually go out in the evening?
  6. When do you usually have a holiday?
  7. When’s your birthday?
  8. Where can you have a nice walk near where you live?

Remember to practise answering IELTS questions for the Writing & Speaking test as much as possible. For complete IELTS preparation and to achieve a high score, enrol in this course.  

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