AppStore

Download our 100% free app

Find everything you need to learn English

Practice with the exercises:
Exercise 1 Exercise 2

1. The prepositions of time

The prepositions of time are those invariable particles used to introduce that part of the sentence which tells us when an action happens (an hour, a particular day, a particular time of day, etc.).

My son finishes school at 5 p.m.
We can go to your house in the afternoon.

2. How are the prepositions of time used?

In English, the three most common prepositions are at, on and in and they are used according to the element they accompany.

  • AT
    Use Examples
    Clock times At 9 o'clock At 6:30
    At 20:45 p.m. At quarter past eight
    Holiday periods At Christmas At Easter
    At Halloween At Thanksgiving
    Points of time in the day At night At midnight
    At the weekend At noon
    Routine moments At lunchtime At breakfast time
    At dinnertime At tea time
  • ON
    Use Examples
    Dates On the 22nd July On the 23rd of April
    On the 6th August On the 1st October
    Days of the week On Monday On Tuesday
    On Wednesday On Thursday
    Days of the week + Parts of the day On Monday afternoon On Sunday night
    On Friday morning On Saturday afternoon
    Special days On Halloween On New Year's Day
    On my wedding day On Christmas Day
    Remember that the days of the week and the months of the year are written in capital letters.
  • IN
    Use Examples
    Centuries, decades and years In the 10th century In the 1960s
    In 1989 In 2017
    Months and seasons In January In February
    In summer In winter
    Parts of the day In the morning In the afternoon
    In the night In the evening

    At the end or during a period of time

    In 10 minutes In 1 hour
    In 30 seconds In 4 weeks

3. Differences between in, on and at

Sometimes more than one preposition can be used to introduce the same time expression. However, the meaning will be slightly different.

My grandparents visit us on Christmas Day.
In this case we are talking about a specific day (December 25th).
I buy a lot of presents at Christmas.
En este caso se habla de un período de tiempo en general (la Navidad).
I didn't sleep well in the night.
In this case we are talking about what happened during a particular night when this girl couldn't sleep.
Nightclubs open at night.
In this case we are talking about an action that usually happens at night (the discotheques are open).
The expressions of time introduced by a preposition of time can be placed both at the beginning and at the end of the sentence. However, in English it is much more common to find them at the end:
In the morning, I usually go to school.
I usually go to school in the morning.

4. Other prepositions of time

  • FROM...TO

    It is used to express that an action begins at a specific time and continues or ends at another specific time.

    Lunch is served from 1pm to 3pm.
    We open from Tuesday to Saturday.
  • UNTIL 

    It is used to express the when the action ends without mentioning when it begins.

    He won't be here until next week.
    She will be here until 12:00.
  • FOR 

    It is used to express how long an action lasts. It precedes a period of time. It would answer the question "how long?"

    It was abandoned for 150 years.
    We waited there for five hours.
  • DURING 

    It is used to express that an action takes place at one point or over a whole period of time. It precedes a noun. It would answer the question "when?".

    Many trees fell down during the storm.
    Some animals hunt during the night.

5. For vs during

For is used to express how long an action lasts, while during focuses on what happened within a specific period of time.

We lived in Canada for five years.
In this sentence we express how long the action of living in Canada lasted.
During the first year we moved house 4 times.
In this sentence we focus on what happened within a specific period of time, that is, when.

Remember!

The prepositions of time introduce the part of the sentence that tells us when an action happens.
  Use Examples
IN Centuries, decades and years
Months and seasons of the year
Parts of the day
At the end or during a period of time
She was born in 2009.
ON Dates 
Days of the week 
Days of the week + parts of the day
Special days
The president will appear on TV on Thursday.
AT Clock times
Holiday periods 
Points of time in the day
Routine moments
People spend a lot on presentes at Christmas.
FROM...TO Actions that begin at one point in time and continue or end at another point in time. I'll be at school from 9:00h to 12:30h.
UNTIL Actions that continue or end at a particular time without mentioning when they began. Your purchase won't be ready until 7:00h.
FOR To know how long an action lasts. This type of preposition precedes a period of time. They travelled around the world for one year.
DURING Actions that take place at one point or over an entire period of time. This type of preposition precedes a noun. During the summer I want to read a trilogy.

 

Share: