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Prepositions Made Easy: In, On, and At (with Video!

by J U STI N on FEBRUARY 12, 2014


Are prepositions really so difficult? What if I told you that IN JUST 5 MINUTES I could help you solve some of your most confusing preposition problems? English learners everywhere are confused about prepositions, and English learners every always say its one of their biggest difficulties. But with the right strategies, prepositions DO NOT need to be so complicated. If you take a few minutes to learn a few tricks, and visualize the problem in a new way, your experience learning prepositions will be a lot easier. This is gonna be fun! Ready? FREE e-book: 101 Words You Wont Learn in School Today, were going to explore how the prepositions AT, ON, and IN are used with TIME and PLACE, and use a formula that works in around 90% of cases. Its not perfect, but it gives you a great foundation to learn the exceptions. Given the fact that most people are visual learners, and most prepositions are best taught in a visual way, well also use graphic organizers and a video lesson to teach this.

The Inverted Pyramid

Before we explain a bit more, lets take a good look at the picture one more time below. Try to get a general idea of the organization and proportion. The first thing I want you to recognize, and try your best to visualize as you learn these, there is a general flow with both time and location from general to specific. Were going to explain it in the following way, first with time, then with location: 1. The TOP, which is BIGGER and more GENERAL 2. The MIDDLE, which is SMALLER and MORE SPECIFIC (ON) 3. The BOTTOM, which is SMALLEST and the MOST SPECIFIC (AT) The image used is a modification of the The Atonin Time Pyramid from Marcelo Montecinos at

IN- The pyramids TOP (wider), which is BIGGER and more GENERAL:

Prepositions of Time

Description: Bigger periods of time: Centuries, Decades, Years, Months th century, in the 1980s, in March, in the Examples: in the 20 third week of April, in the future Exceptions: in the morning, in the evening, in the afternoon ON- The pyramids MIDDLE part, which is SMALLER and MORE SPECIFIC: Description: Days, or periods of time shorter than three days Examples: on my birthday, on Saturday, on the weekend (United States), on June 8th Exceptions: on my lunch break, on time AT- The pyramids BOTTOM (pointed), the SMALLEST, and the MOST SPECIFIC: Description: Specific times or small time periods. Examples: at 9:00 PM, at lunch, at dinner, at the start of the party, at sunrise, at the start of the movie, at the moment Exceptions: at night, at the weekend (England)

IN - The TOP (wider), which is BIGGER and more GENERAL: Description: In larger areas (countries, states, cities, neighborhoods) Examples: in the United States, in Miami, in my neighborhood Exceptions: in downtown (I work in downtown) ON - The MIDDLE, which is SMALLER and MORE SPECIFIC: Description: a longer area, street, beach, river Examples: on Broadway Street, on the beach, on my street AT The pyramids BOTTOM (pointed), the SMALLEST, and the MOST SPECIFIC: Description: the address or specific location, specific points. Examples: at 345 broadway street, at the store, at my house

Prepositions of Location

Prepositions of Placement

The mind map pyramid below explains TIME in the same way we did above (only this one is not inverted), but it also introduces prepositions PLACE/PLACEMENT, which we will focus on here.

Enclosed Space: in the kitchen, in the house, the water is in the glass Personal Modes of Transportation: get in the car, my friend is in the taxi

IN for enclosed spaces and personal modes of transportation

Surfaces: on the floor, on the wall, the book is on the table, on a page, I put on my clothes (my clothes are on my body) Public Modes of Transportation: on the bus, on the plane, on a boat, on a ship, Exceptions: on my motorcycle, on my bike (these are personal modes of transportation, but we use on)

ON for surfaces and public modes of transportation

AT for specific point (the same as prepositions of location)

at the bus stop, at the cinema, at the corner, at the top of the hill, at the mall

Again, these rules are not an exact science, but they will help you get past 90% of the preposition confusion that most people encounter with IN, ON, and AT. After you learn these techniques, you will not only speak a lot better, and with a lot more confidence, but the final 5 to 10% of prepositions wont seem too hard. It will probably take some study time and some memorization of collocations (in the kitchen, at the mall, but you will see that its a lot more manageable. The point is that you dont want to be thinking about the rules too much when youre communicating. This will help make most of the process unconscious and automatic, which is exactly what fluency is. You can use Anki, a really effective vocabulary study tool, or other free study resources that can make your process a lot easier to learn using these prepositions. Another thing that will naturally help is reading and making English a part of your life. These are all very important parts of the Real Life English methodology. You can get our popular e-book, 101 Words You Wont Learn at School for FREE here, or check out the 5 Best Tools for Learning English Online by yourself.
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Becoming Friends With Prepositions