Grammar Learn English Tips

Learn English – Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

Now in English, we say:

  • “The school is on Bay Street.” Not “The school is at Bay Street.”
  • “They live at 10 Park Road.” Not “She lives in 10 Park Road.”
  • “The museum is in the city.” Not “The museum is on the city.”
  • “I live at 300 King Street, in an apartment, on the fourth floor.”

These little words can cause lots of headaches if English is not your first language. They’re called prepositions and there are lots of them in English, such as “in, on, at, by, with, for, over, under, of, to, etc.” They all help to give information about the time, location or direction in your English sentences.

In this lesson, we’ll take a closer look at 4 small but very common, very useful English words. They are “IN, ON, AT, BY”.  And we’ll concentrate on how you can use them to give information about the place or location of something.

Learn English - Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

Now, the bad news is that there’s no clear way of knowing which preposition you need to use. In fact, different prepositions can be used with the same words but this can change the meaning of your sentence.

Am I at the car? Am I in the car? Or am I on the car?

All of these sentences are okay but the meaning is different in each question.

Most of the time, you can’t just guess the correct preposition. It’s not really a good strategy to improve your English – unless you’re a really lucky person!

The worst way to try and learn prepositions is to translate them from your native language. This can cause lots of problems. Prepositions must be learned in chunks of words or called collocations. Groups of words that are often used together. Like, “In the morning.” “At night.” “It depends on… (something)”.”He’s keen on football.” Learning this way will help you to make fewer mistakes with prepositions.

Pay attention to how native speakers use these prepositions. How are they used in the newspaper articles that you read or stories? What words are they used with? And pay close attention to the general rules that Learn English Fun Way will share with you in this lesson, so that you can make the right choices when choosing prepositions of place.

Now, let’s start!

Learn English - Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

I) IN:

“In” means being within something inside the edges of something.

1, In + containers or spaces that are enclosed.

  • I’ve got the key in my pocket.
  • There’s some milk in the fridge.
  • She left it in the top drawer.
  • There’s nothing left in my cup.

2, In + buildings or rooms and places that can surround a person or an object on all sides.

  • Can you take a seat in the waiting room please?
  • I’ve left my bag in your office.
  • Why don’t we have a picnic in the park?

3, In + areas or regions or cities and towns.

  • I’m filming this video in Spain.
  • I grew up in Melbourne.
  • Holidaying in France is easy if you speak French!
  • Regolisa is a small village in the mountains.
  • We’re going for a drive in the country.
  • Lots of people were swimming in the lake.

4, In + groups of people.

  • She works in the finance team.
  • He got selected to play in the national team.

5, In + liquids and other substances.

  • Careful! There’s a lot of chilli in that sauce.
  • There’s too much sugar in soft drinks.
  • Do you have milk in your coffee?

Learn English - Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

II) ON:

“On” is used to talk about the position of something touching or forming part of a surface.

1, On + surfaces / things that can be thought-of as surfaces (such as wall, paper, table, etc.)

  • My phone is on the table.
  • You can see a painting on the wall behind me.
  • We live on the fourth floor of the building.
  • Can you write it on that piece of paper?
  • He’s spilled ice cream on his new jumper!

2, On + flat surfaces (such as roads, streets, coast, etc.)

  • The supermarket is on the corner of Martin Street.
  • Nice is on the south coast of France.

3, On + water (such as rivers, oceans, lakes, etc.)

  • What’s that on the water?
  • Floating on the water.
  • We’ll take you out on the lake,  in our boat.

Learn English - Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

III) AT:

“At” is used to talk about specific places or points in space.

1, At+ public places and shops.

  • I studied design at college or school or university.
  • Let’s meet at the station.
  • We have to stop at the supermarket on the way home.
  • There was a crazy guy at the library today.

2, At+ addresses.

  • They live at 14 Eagle Road.
  • I’ll meet you at the corner of Beach Street and Park Road.
  • I had a coffee at Helen’s house.

3, At + events.

  • We met at a party.
  • He’s speaking at a conference later this week.

Learn English - Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

After going through quite a few examples above, but let’s just stop and review the rules for a minute:

  • “At” is one-dimensional. Think of a map.When you’re looking at a map, you’re referring to a specific place or position in space.
  • “On” is more two-dimensional. You have a flat surface and you’re referring to the position of something or someone in relation to that surface. So you’re recognising the space around you a little more when you’re using that preposition.
  • “In” is the sort of three-dimensional preposition. So when you use it, you need to think about the position of something in relation to what surrounds it.

Learn English - Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

However, not all the cases follow the above-mention rules, there are many exceptions for prepositions when you’re talking about the place or the location of something:

  • It’s on the corner / It’s at the corner.
    These two examples mean almost the same thing.
  • The museum is on the south side of the city.
    So this expression, on the south side or on the right side or on the left side, it always uses the preposition “on”.
  • Nice is on the south coast of France / Nice is in the south of France.
    Coast is a flat surface so we use “on the south coast”. But France is a space that has edges and it’s enclosed so we use “in the south of France”.
  • Sarah’s still in school / Sarah is still at school.
    “In” school suggests that Sarah is inside the school buildings. She’s a student, she’s learning there. “At” suggests that she’s at the location of the school but she could be inside a building or outside and she’s not necessarily a student either. She could be a parent visiting the school, for example.
  • I think they’re at the beach / I think they’re on the beach.
    “At the beach” is the place. “On the beach” means the sand.
  • There are also times when you can use two different prepositions and the meaning is actually really similar especially between “at” and “on”.

So you know, when learning prepositions of place in English, there will be many grey areas and exceptions that will make you scratch your head and wonder, what?!

IV) BY:

One more two-lettered preposition to add to this lesson about place is “by”. “By” is used to mean next to something or beside or near. You can say:

  • They live near the school.
  • They live next to the school.
  • They live by the school.

Learn English - Prepositions Of Place: IN, ON, AT, BY

So there are definitely a few confusing things about prepositions, right?

To successfully learn to use prepositions really well, learn them with the words around them. Don’t try and learn them on their own. The general rules that we talked about during this lesson will help you to make better choices – most of the time!

In order to get further explanation and practice your listening skills also, watch the video below. We hope this lesson has helped to make a few things clearer for you.  Thank you for reading and see you in the next writing!

Credit: Youtube Channel “mmmEnglish”

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