3 Common English Prepositions of Place Explained - In, On, At

by Alex Bricker

English Prepositions with In, On, and At in American English

Common Prepositions of Place

Prepositions are a foundational grammar component in the English language. They are one of the 8 parts of speech. The most common prepositions of place are in, on, and at. Other prepositions of place include next to the, near the, by the, in front of the, behind the, above the, under the, among the, between the, etc. These expressions denote the location or presence of a person, place, or thing. For example, “Maria is next to the table by the door in the restaurant.”
In this article, we will discuss the most common prepositions of place—in, on, and at.

Overview of In, On, At in American English*

 *Note: Get the Prep It Cards as seen in the above video.

English Sentences with the Preposition In

The preposition in means to be inside or within a place or thing. A few example sentences for objects in locations:

1.) The keys are in the house.

2.) The cake is in the oven. 

3.) My computer is in the office.

4.) The cream is in the coffee.

5.) The kids are in their room.

With advanced English, the preposition in is used with prepositional phrases for different situations. It’s important to read other vocabulary words in context to understand the intended meaning. A few examples:

1.) We arrived just in time to catch our flight.

2.) I’m in need of a vacation.

3.) They’re in the middle of a difficult situation.

4.) Dinner will be ready in 5 minutes.

5.) The flowers often bloom in June.

Idioms with the preposition in tend to reflect cultural situations and expressions. 

A few examples:

1.) I’m in the thick of it with all these reports that need to be created.

Definition: To experience a challenging situation or feeling overwhelmed. The idea comes from going through a thick forest or jungle, where the vines and vegetation do not provide a clear path.

2.) In case you didn’t know, this email was only intended for the direct recipient, and not to be shared with others.

Definition: This expression is quite similar to the FYI (For Your Information) acronym. It is meant to educate and inform the other party of relevant information.

3.) In general, most people have a smartphone nowadays.

Definition: Frequently or most of the time. This is also used when people make assumptions about certain ideas, things, or situations.

English Sentences with the Preposition On

The preposition on means something is directly on top of or above another thing. A few examples for objects in locations:

1.) The phone is on the table.

2.) The truck is on the road.

3.) Where did you put the keys? Oh, nevermind. It was me. I put them on my desk.

4.) The box is on the steps.

5.) The shoes are on the floor.

Prepositions with on can be used to describe situations which do not denote place or location. The preposition on is used with days of the week, calendar dates, and with electronic devices while in use. A few examples:

1.) Shhh, I’m on the phone. (Not sitting on the phone, but holding it and talking with it).

2.) She’s in the office on her computer. (Not sitting on the computer, but using it).

3.) My friends mentioned they'll be back on the fifteenth.

4.) The kids start school on Monday.

5.) I’ll have to get up early for work on Thursday.

Idioms with the prepositional phrase word on reflect different cultural situations too. A few examples:

1.) We should move. On the other hand, our family would miss us. 

Definition: An opposing or contrasting idea or thought.

2.) Everything is on the table for discussion. We need to rethink our market strategy.

Definition: When something is “on the table,” it means an idea, thought, or process that can be considered.

3.) We pay for almost every streaming device that is on demand. I don’t think we can afford it anymore.

Definition: Something you can buy or receive for free immediately, based on demand or request for a service or product. Examples include: Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime, podcasts, online courses, etc.

English Sentences with the Preposition At

This is a common preposition. It refers to someone or something that is near, around, or by another person, place, or thing. It denotes being in the presence of or in the general vicinity of an area.

A few example sentences with the preposition at used in locations:

1.) I’m at the bank.

2.) She’s at the gas station filling up the car.

3.) He’s picking up the kids at school.

4.) Where are you? I’m waiting in line at the supermarket (grocery store).

5.) We’re not at the house, but we should be back in about 30 minutes.

Prepositions with at are used to describe situations involving time. A few examples:

1.) We’ll meet at 9 AM for coffee.

2.) They aren’t here at the moment.

3.) At approximately 10 PM, the suspect left the building.

4.) We usually break for lunch at noon, but I can take my break later today.

5.) We lived in Italy at the time. (At what time? American English speakers use this expression to reference some point in history, and it may be a specific time mentioned before in a conversation.)

Idioms with the preposition at vary from the in and on prepositions. A few cultural examples:

1.) Please keep your children with you at all times. Keep your belongings with you at all times.

Definition: continuously, or during every second of time. It might be a sign you see at a zoo or in public places. Same with public transportation systems or rental vehicles. 

2.) At last, we made it to the top of the mountain. I’m free at last!

Definition: This does not mean last place. It is another way to say, “finally,” or “at the end of a journey or situation.”

3.) At a glance, this looks like a solid resume. Go ahead and book an interview.

Definition: Reading or skimming something quickly. To view something at a glance.

See more idioms with common prepositions in English. 

Preposition Examples with Phrasal Verbs

The prepositions in and on are frequently used with verb phrases known as phrasal verbs. These are two or three word phrases that include a verb and a preposition. 

A few examples: 

fill in – (1) to write information in a specific place on a document or to write your signature; Can you please fill in your name at the bottom on page 2 and page 5? (2) to substitute for something or someone; Julio filled in for Mark at work because Mark got sick. I called in sick yesterday and I had Sandra fill in for me for my shift. 

go on – (1) to continue; I can’t go on living with a low salary. I will need to find a better job. Your story is interesting. Please go on, I want to hear more about it.

turn in – (1) to give information or an assignent to someone; The students turned in their homework. I need you to turn in your marketing report next Monday. (2) to go to bed; I’m exhausted. I think I’ll turn in for the night. (This is often used in social situations where a person is ready to leave the activities). (3) to give someone over to the authorities; After stealing, the thief later turned himself in to the police.

hold on – (1) to wait; Hold on a minute…yes, may I help you? Can you hold on a minute? I will be there to help you move furniture soon. (2) to grab or physically hold something; She held on to the door handle as her friend drove fast. Hold on! This roller coaster is going to be fun!

check in – (1) to register at an event, location, or a place you are staying at; We checked in at our hotel last night. The administrator wanted us to check in our bags before getting on the airplane. Our clients checked in at the office before meeting us.

There are over 5,000 phrasal verbs in the English language, and they all contain a preposition. 

For English resources and activities related to phrasal verbs and prepositions, check out these free worksheet downloads or view these English lessons on YouTube.