In this lesson, we are talking about the difference between prepositions IN ON AT. Prepositions of place in, on and at are extremely popular in English. Therefore, many English learners confuse these prepositions and do not know which one to use in a certain situation.
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Another difficulty is that in some situations we don’t see the difference between them, and we can use several of these prepositions at once. But that changes the meaning of the sentence.
Let’s look at the cases where we can use these prepositions of place with the same objects. That being said, let’s see how the meaning of the sentence will change.
Difference between In, On, At with Top
What is the difference in the use between the prepositions of place at and on with the word top?
We use the preposition at when we want to talk about the highest point of an object. If we want to indicate that one object is on the surface of another object, then we use the preposition on.
Please note that the preposition at is rarely used in such phrases. We most often use on.
He wіll ѕtау аt the top оf the ѕocіаl trеndѕ.
It is on the top of that mountain.
We are in a romantic restaurant on the top of a hotel.
You got a little sweat on the top of your lip.
Difference between In, On, At with Front and Back
We can also use in, on, and at with the worlds Front and Back.
We use the preposition at when we want to indicate the location of an object in relation to a building, space, or group of other people.
I sat at the front in order to hear the lecture clearly.
They’re all superstars, even the one at the back.
But if we describe the location of an object from the position of people who are sitting in a car (bus, etc), then we must use the preposition in.
I left my talking phone in the back of your truck.
Well, I’m not traveling in the back of that car.
I found this in the back of the cab.
He seats in the front of the plane.
He was in the front of the train.
We use the preposition on when we are talking about books, notebooks, textbooks, etc.
Just call the number on the back of the card.
He’s got a white T-shirt with my picture on the front of it.
I’ve written his address on the back of the envelope.
It was on the back of the photograph.
Difference Between In, On, At with Corner.
We can use any of these prepositions with the word Corner. But the meaning of such phrases will differ.
We say in the corner using the preposition in when the object is inside a building. For example, inside a room. That is, the object is located in the corner of this room.
She seemed convinced she had him backed in a corner.
He’s just sitting there in a corner turning pages.
His desk is right over here in the corner.
We use on or at with the word Corner if the object is outside a building. Then this means that the object is located near the corner of this building.
Crew on that corner looks familiar.
OK, I’ll meet you on the corner.
We add another entrance here, at the corner.
She waited for me at the door, at the corner.
Difference Between In At with Arrive.
We use the prepositions at and in with the word arrive.
Look at the following combinations to better understand exactly how we use these two prepositions with arrive.
We use arrive with the preposition in when we are talking about the country or city where the object is located.
She arrives in Baghdad for the first time.
I’m afraid you chose the wrong time to arrive in Atlantis.
We use arrive with the preposition at when we are talking about the location of an object in some place, some building.
Sam arrives at Winterfell with his family.
John arrives at Princeton University.
At and Activities
We use the preposition at to indicate that the object is at an event.
- at a concert
- at a game
- at a conference
- at a meeting
- at a match
We were at a conference, and he went up to the hotel room.
I always have a good view at a concert.
See you at the match.
Manny didn’t want me at the game today.
Difference Between On, In, At with the words River, Lake, or Sea
We use the preposition on** when we want to say that something is or is happening near a river, lake, or sea.
I’m going to live in a big house on a lake someday.
I’m on a lake in a canoe.
Send a plane to protect us if necessary, on the river.
My cousin Earl got the luckiest boat on the river.
We use In when we want to express that something is in the water of a lake, river, or sea.
It seems someone fell in the river.
The royal carriage fell in the river and was destroyed.
Let’s push the car in the lake.
There is no information about the types of fish found in the lake.
She’d throw herself in the sea for him.
We can use the preposition at with the noun sea if we are talking about people or ships that are sailing at sea.
My Lords, we heard Edward perished at sea.
Vessel designed to serve as a hospital at sea.
Difference Between In and At with the Names of Settlements
We can use both of these prepositions (in and at) with the names of different settlements.
We use the preposition in with the words city, town, village etc.
Parking in the city can be a nightmare.
They want me in the city tomorrow.
There must be other jobs in the town.
Two strangers, here, in the village.
Nobody in the village cared for them.
But if we are talking about a settlement not as a city or a village, but as a stopping place along the route, then we can use the preposition at.
He stops at a town called … Actually I don’t remember the name.
Difference Between In and On with Vehicles
We use the preposition on when we talk about public transport.
You’re supposed to be on a bus heading south.
I go to school on a bus.
They’re putting him on a plane right now.
I only remember that I was alone on a boat.
We use the preposition on with those types of transport on which we ride while sitting on top. These are types of transport such as a bicycle, motorcycle, horse, scooter, etc.
He used to come to school on a horse.
It was a dream to go with you on a bike.
You can’t send him to school on a bike with training wheels.
We use the preposition in when we talk about machines.
Put him in a car with his little criminal friend.
I grew up with a radio in a car.
I put her in a taxi home.
Before I got in the taxi Antonio gave me his number.
Prepositions In and At with Buildings and City Places.
When we talk about buildings, we can use both in and at, but the use of these prepositions can give different meanings.
For example, if we talk about a building as a place where something happens or where someone has gone for some purpose, then we use the preposition at.
If we speak of a building simply as a room, then we use the preposition in.
‘Macbeth’ is playing at the Theater Royal in York.
I met you in a cafe.
When we talk about a building that has a specific name, we most often use the preposition at.
I’ll have to work at McDonalds!
I actually think we could serve this at Jensen’s Steakhouse.
We use the preposition at with educational institutions.
I was lying to her about seeing you at school.
You see him at school every day anyway.
I didn’t realize you took Russian at college.
I was at college, 2,000 miles away.
Your father and I were classmates at university.
We use the preposition at when we are talking about someone’s home.
I have two white shirts at home.
Mum stays at home as usual.
He thinks I should leave you at home.
We use the preposition at when we are talking about someone’s place of work.
He never mentioned trouble at work.
Everyone at work told me I look wonderful.
Crying at work is so not me.
Note: If we are talking about someone’s house not as a house where a person lives, but simply as a room, then we use the preposition in instead of the preposition at.
I want absolute silence in the house.
I heard someone in the house.
We also use the preposition in when we talk about a building not as a place of work, but as just a room.
There is no one in the building.
You can also read the full article about Prepositions in English.
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