Prepositions of time

I’ve heard a number of incorrect prepositions being used with expressions of time throughout my teaching career. Most of the time, translation is the culprit. Let’s have a look at the different prepositions of time used in English, as well as some general guidelines on when to use which preposition.

    in the morning, at dawn/sunrise
    at midday/noon, in the afternoon
    in the evening, at dusk/sunset, at night

As you can see, some words or phrases use in, others use at. What about on? Choosing the correct preposition might seem confusing at first, but these guidelines should help you figure out which preposition you should use.

In


Used when talking about specific parts of the day, months, seasons, years, decades, and centuries.

Parts of the dayin the morning
in the afternoon
in the evening
Monthsin June
in September
in December
Seasonsin summer
in autumn
in winter
Yearsin 2017
in 1996
in 1980
Decadesin the 70s
in the 80s
in the 90s
Centuriesin the 13th century
in the 21st century
in the last century

In is also used when talking about how soon something will happen or to say how long something takes.

I should be able to get back to you in two to three days.
She said she’d be here in ten minutes.

We also use the expression in …’s time to say how soon something will happen.

It will be ready in two week’s time.
We’ll see each other again in a month’s time.

In American English, in is also used in negative sentences when talking about periods of time up to the present. In British English, for is used.

I haven’t seen him in years.
He hasn’t cleaned in ages.

At


Used when talking about specific times, holidays or other parts of the day.

Specific/clock timeat six o'clock
at 5.30
at breakfast/lunchtime/teatime
Holidays/weekendsat Christmas
at the weekend
at Easter
Other parts of the dayat dawn/dusk/night
at midnight
at sunset

In informal contexts, at is usually left out when asking questions:

What time does the train leave?

When talking about holiday periods, we use at. However, we use on to talk about one day of the holiday:

We won’t be home at Christmas.
What are you doing on Easter Sunday?

When talking about the weekend, British people use at, whereas Americans use on:

What did you do at the weekend?
What did you do on the weekend?

On


Used when talking about days and dates.

Dayson Monday
on my birthday
on Christmas Day
Dateson January 14th
on the first of March
on the 11th of June
Days + morning/afternoon/eveningon Wednesday morning
on Friday afternoon
on Sunday evening

We sometimes leave out on in informal contexts:

I’m meeting him Saturday afternoon.

We also use plurals when talking about repeated actions:

We usually do the laundry on Mondays.
We go out for dinner on Fridays.

Expressions without prepositions


Sometimes, we don’t use a preposition at all.

See you next Wednesday!Come visit any time.What did you do this morning?
I was sick that week.We're usually at home every evening.I hope we'll see each other again one day.
We were up all night.What are we doing the day after tomorrow?We went shopping the day before yesterday.

Prepositions are usually left out in questions beginning what/which + expression of time, as well as in short answers which only contain an expression of time:

Which week are you on holiday?
What day is the party?
What time does your train leave? – Six o’clock.


That’s all! Let me know if you have any questions by leaving a comment or sending a message.



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