How to use on, in and at when talking about places

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I need to make a confession.

For many years I used to get the prepositions of place (on/it/at) all wrong.
And every time I tried to learn them, my head would spin and I’d get confused by all the rules.
It’s always goes something like this:
Use AT for x,y z
Use ON for a, b, c
Use IN for w, t, f
Just couldn’t remember it.

Until one day I sat down and tried to make sense of it. Instead of learning the rules, I worked at understanding the system behind it. And surprisingly enough – I figured it out! Much simpler than I thought it would be.
And I’d like to share it with you today.

ON IN AT – Prepositions of time: stop memorizing start visualizing.

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Hey guys, it’s Hadar and this is the Accent’s Way.

Today is part two of the video lesson

How to use ‘on’, ‘in’ an ‘at’ when it comes to time and place.

Last video we talked about ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘at’ when it comes to time.

And today we are going to talk about it when it comes to place.

Last video, I also said it, that when you look at these three words you want to think about it in those terms.

Where ‘at’ is the most specific, ‘on’ is a little less specific and ‘in’ is the least specific.

Now when it comes to place I want to add one more thing.

Let’s make it more visual.

Think of ‘at’ as a dot, ‘on’ as a line and ‘in’ as a box.

So ‘at’ is most specific.

‘at’ is used when you want to describe a specific place.

I am sitting ‘at’ the table.

There is somebody ‘at’ the door, let me go get it.

Places around town.

I’m ‘at’ the supermarket.

I’m ‘at’ the movie theater.

I’m ‘at’ school.

I’m ‘at’ the office.

So if you look at the map and you can mark an X on specific places, this is when you’d use ‘at’.

‘At’ the store.

‘At’ the supermarket.

‘At’ school.

So places, ideas of places.

Okay, also, it is used to describe events.

For example

I’m ‘at’ a conference.

I’m ‘at’ a concert.

I’m ‘at’ a meeting.

So ‘at’ is used to describe specific places.

‘On’ is a line, a surface, so we can say

‘On’ the street.

‘On’ the road.

You use it to describe levels.

I’m ‘on’ the second floor.

You use it to describe coastlines.

‘On’ the East Coast.

‘On’ the West Coast.

Why? It’s not a specific place.

It’s somewhere along this line, so I can say

I live ‘on’ 14th Street.

Okay, I don’t commit to where, it can be anywhere along 14th Street.

But if I want to be more specific I zoom in and then I use ‘at’.

I live ‘at’ 35 West, 14th Street.

I live ‘on’ 14th Street.

Or

I live ‘at’ 35 West, 14th Street.

I can tell you

Hey, there’s a great restaurant ‘on’ the road. You have to try it.

If I want to be more specific, I’ll zoom in and say

There is a great restaurant ‘at’ the end of the road.

Okay. ‘On’ the road can be anywhere along the road.

Zooming in, ‘at’ the end of the road.

When we talk about crossroads or intersections we can use both ‘on’ and ‘at’.

So I’ll meet you ‘on’ the corner of Broadway and 82nd Street.

Because these are two lines that are meeting.

And I can also say

I’ll meet you ‘at’ the corner of Broadway and 82nd Street.

Because it’s a specific point.

And then we have ‘in’.

‘In’ is the least specific as I described it.

But I also said that you want to think of it as a box.

But it’s also something that is surrounded with something, some kind of borders.

Either walls or borders on the map. So it is used for neighborhoods.

I live ‘in’ Queens.

I live ‘in’ Manhattan.

‘In’ is also used for cities.

‘In’ Tokyo.

‘In’ Cairo.

‘In’ Moscow.

‘In’ is used for countries.

‘In’ the U.S.

‘In’ Argentina.

‘In’ Asia.

Continents, okay.

‘In’ the universe.

So ‘in’, always think of it as a specific place within a larger place with borders, with boundaries.

Although the universe doesn’t have any boundaries, but you get what I mean.

So we talked about boundaries on the map. But we also have physical boundaries. For example

I’m ‘in’ the room.

She’s ‘in’ the house.

I’m ‘in’ a car right now.

And I can also say

‘In’ the park.

And

‘In’ the office.

But wait a minute, I said

‘At’ the office.

Just before, how can I say

‘In’ the office.

What’s the difference between

‘At’ a coffee shop.

or

‘In’ the coffee shop.

And this is where it gets interesting.

So this is how I see it, and I invite you to let me know in the comments below how you see it.

Because it’s a little vague, and even American speakers can’t tell exactly when they use ‘in’ and ‘at’.

It’s very intuitive.

I’ll give you my take on it.

‘In’ is the physical place.

When you use ‘in’ you want to indicate that you’re within the physical place, because there is a reason for it.

And ‘at’ is more the concept of the place or it’s about what you do in the place, okay.

So, for example, I can say

I’m ‘at’ a coffee shop.

Just indicating that I’m ‘at’ the coffee shop.

It can be just outside of the coffee shop when I say ‘at’.

Because it’s the idea of the place, is what I do there.

And if I say

I’m ‘in’ the coffee shop.

It means that there’s a reason why I used it. It means that I’m physically inside the coffee shop.

Okay, I’m not gonna say, if someone calls me is like

Hey, where are you?

I’d say

I’m ‘at’ a coffee shop.

But if my friend that is coming to meet me asks me

Where are you?

I’d say

I’m in the coffee shop. Come on inside.

I’m inside, I’m ‘in’.

Or

I’m ‘at’ the office.

Oh, I’m ‘at’ the office today, I can’t see you.

It can be me buying coffee downstairs, still ‘at’ the office.

It can be me ‘at’ the kitchen, speaking to a colleague, but I’m still ‘at’ the office.

But if someone is coming for a meeting and calling me from downstairs, I’d say

Come on up, I’m ‘in’ the office.

Because I’m inside the office. Let’s say for example, someone’s calling and is like

Oh my god, it’s snowing like crazy outside. Are you okay?

Oh, yeah, don’t worry. I’m in the office

I used ‘in’ the office to indicate that I’m within the physical place.

That I’m surrounded with the walls around me.

Okay, that’s what’s important here. This is why I used ‘in’.

Either way, I’d probably just use ‘at’. So I can say ‘at’ when I want to talk about the idea of the place.

What I do in the place.

It doesn’t have to be physically inside the place. It can be just outside of it, okay.

I’m at the park, I can be across the street.

But if I use ‘in’, then it means that I have to be physically inside.

Surrounded by the borders and the boundaries of the place.

So to conclude ‘at’ is a specific place. It’s the idea of the place. It’s an X on the map. It’s a point, a dot.

‘On’ is a surface. It’s like a line.

Okay, it can be anywhere on this line, but you don’t commit to where.

And ‘in’ is something that you have to physically walk into or get into.

If we’re talking about a place with borders on the map.

Okay, so ‘on’ is a surface.

‘In’ is three-dimensional, so you have to walk into a place.

And ‘at’ is a specific place, whether it’s ‘on’ something or ‘in’ something, okay.

So usually when you have ‘in’, you also have ‘at’ in it. When you have ‘on’, you can also have ‘at’.

Okay, that’s it. I hope it makes a bit more sense.

It definitely helped me when I was trying to figure out when to use any of these three words.

Because for me all three words in my native tongue translate to the same word.

So for me, it made a lot of sense to give visual representations to these three words.

Okay, so let me know in the comments below if you have any questions.

What do you still struggle with when it comes to ‘on’, ‘in’ and ‘at’.

And come over to my website to check it out because there are a lot of great stuff waiting for you over there.

Thank you so much for watching.

Don’t forget to subscribe to my YouTube channel if you want more of this kind of stuff.

And have a wonderful week and I will see you next week in the next video.

Bye.

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7 Comments on “How to use on, in and at when talking about places”

  1. Thank you Hadar! That was very helpful!
    Can you teach us how to use at/in/on/from in (?) Sentence like: i received this photo from(?) Whatsapp.
    You can search it on/in(?) google.
    The doctor expertises in (?) blabla

    And more…
    I’m very confuse:-(

  2. Today is a rainy day, I am staying at home, I am relaxing in my chair and my cat is sleeping on my knees.

    Thank you!

  3. I’m at home,in Ramat Gan, sitting at the table, reading the advices on your website and it realy helps me a lot.
    Thank you!

  4. Thank you so much! Now I can use them correctly and without thinking.

    My example:
    I met them at a restaurant, on 2nd street, in New York.

    Thanks

  5. I have troubles with “on Facebook”, “in the Facebook Group”, “on the website”, “in the Google drive” and so on, well those are the examples I think I’m getting right.. but for sure I miss some to the technology and social media related ones

    Thanks! Great Video!

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