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Talking About Time: Using ‘At’, ‘In’ and ‘On’

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Time is a pretty important part of all of our lives! Wherever we go and whatever we do, it’s always necessary to know how we’re relating to other people through time.

In English, there are a few different ways to think about time – which all depend on what exactly you want to say. So let’s take a closer look!

Prepositions of time

Prepositions are words that come before a noun, and shows that noun’s relationship with everything else in the sentence.

When it comes to prepositions of time – these are words that are used in a very similar way, only they show the relationship of things with reference to time, rather than anything else.

The main prepositions of time you will come across are “at”, “in” and “on”. Let’s take a closer look at what each one means, and how they’re used!

At

“At” is only used to describe specific times. It might be to describe a particular numerical time on the clock, or it could also be used to refer to particular and specific events or times of day.

Let’s take a look at some examples!

To use “at” in relation to clock time, you simply use the word followed by the time. For example:

“Her train is arriving at 8 o’ clock.”

“We had lunch at 11:30.”

“At” can be used with both 24 hour and 12 hour time descriptions, and both use the form in exactly the same way. For example:

“The plane is landing at 23:40.”

In some cases, you can also use “at” when you’re talking about a specific time of day, or event. But this one is a little more tricky!

You can use them to refer to general times of day, without specifying a particular time, such as “at breakfast, at lunch time, at night.”

You can also use “at” to refer to specific events or times, such as “at Christmas, at Easter.”

Let’s take a look at some examples:

“He came in late at night.”

“We’re going on holiday at Christmas this year.”

In

“In” is used in phrases that describe a more general period of time, that doesn’t have a specific clock time or time of day.

Let’s look at some examples to see how it’s used!

“We got up very early in the morning.”

“She is planning to move in December.”

“I was born in 1989.”

As you can see from the examples, you can use “in” to describe general periods of time like a particular year or month, or a more general time of day.

On

“On” is a very particular preposition of time, that is only used with specific days, dates or named days. For instance, you would use “on” to refer to a calendar date, a day of the week, or a special day that can be named by its significance, such as a birthday or anniversary.

Let’s look at some examples!

“On 12 March, I first learnt to swim.”

“Let’s all meet up on Tuesday.”

“She felt nervous on her wedding day.”

“I don’t want to work on my birthday!”

Your turn

Practice always makes things easier! These prepositions of time are really important to learn, and will be helpful when you’re communicating with people in all sorts of ways. So keep using each of them and pay attention to what is different between them!