This post starts with the most common use of the three prepositions, followed by other usages. Wherever possible, the prepositions have been presented in tabular form for ease of comprehension. Comments are in square brackets in blue font so that you can easily spot them. And the post ends in a quiz for you to test yourself.
Let’s start with the most common use of the three prepositions.
1. The most common use of At, On, and In
|At is used to describe a place when you think of it as a point rather an area.||On is used to describe a position touching a flat surface.||In is used to describe: (1) a position within a larger area [In a stadium/ city/ country]; (2) something within a larger space (three-dimensional) [In a box/ bag/ room/ building]|
|I saw a vendor selling fruits at the bus stop.||There is a lizard on the wall/ ceiling/ floor.||There were more than 200 persons in the hall/ city center.|
|Can you check who is at the door?||He is sitting on the chair/ grass/ lawn/ beach.||We’ve barely identified one percent of all species in our oceans.|
|He is working at his desk.||John is sitting on the garden. [Showing position touching a surface]||X: Where is John? Y: He is in the garden. [Showing position within a larger area]|
|The post office is located at the end of the road.||The mangoes on the tree have ripened and can fall if not plucked.||I had a swim in the river/ sea/ lake.|
|Write the date at the top of the page and your name at the bottom.||There is a notice on the wall requiring your presence in the court next week.||What’s in that box/ bag/ cupboard?|
|Can you please leave my book at the hotel’s reception?||Can you put this painting on the wall?||New Delhi is in the north of India.|
|Go straight and take a left turn at the shop.||There is a label on the bottle.||I like to look at the stars in the night sky.|
2. Other use of At
We say somebody is at home/ at work/ at school/ at university/ at college/ at station/ at airport etc.:
We say somebody is at an event/ at a party/ at a conference etc.:
3. Other use of On
On the left/ right:
On the ground (first etc.) floor:
On a map/ on the menu/ on a list:
On a farm:
We use on to describe the location of a place on something in the form of a line (road, river etc.):
We say that a place is on the way to another place:
4. Other use of In
In a line/ row/ queue/ street:
In a photograph/ picture/ mirror:
In a book/ newspaper/ magazine/ letter [But: on a page]:
We say somebody is in bed/ hospital/ prison:
We say someone works in a shop, bank, factory, store etc.:
5.1 The corner
We say in the corner of a room, but at the corner or on the corner of a street:
5.2 The front and the back
All three – at, on, and in – can be used depending on the usage.
|We say at the front (or back) of a building/ cinema/ group of people etc.||We say on the front (back) of a letter/ piece of paper etc.||We say in the front or in the back of a car.|
|Let’s sit at the front of the class/ cinema.||Write your address on the front of the envelope.||Let’s sit in the front row.|
|I was standing at the back during the group snap.||Write your phone number on the back of the cheque.||The guy sitting in the front on the car suffered fatal injuries in the accident.|
5.3 Address, streets, and roads
|At is used before an address.||However, in or on are used before the name of a road.|
|They’ve opened a showroom at 26 MG Road.||They’ve opened a showroom on/ in MG Road.|
|I live at 12 Walnut street.||The town is on Grand Trunk road. [On is preferred when describing long streets or roads]|
|We usually say at when we say where an event takes place.||We use in when we describe the building itself.|
|The meeting took place at the company’s headquarters in Singapore.||The rooms in Raffle’s Tower, the company’s headquarters, are quite small.|
|The movie is showing at Odeon.||It was quite cold in the cinema hall.|
Fill in the blanks with the preposition of place at, on, or in.
1. There is a fly ___ the bottle.
2. We went to the concert ___ South Hall.
3. There is notice ___ the door. It’s a summon from the court.
4. Few passengers have been stranded ___ the island since yesterday.
5. This Sunday, I’ll be ___ my brother’s place.
6. I bet there are at least 20 persons ___ the shop.
7. My father’s office is ___ river Narmada.
8. As per protocol, you need to write your address ___ the top of the letter.
9. I came late for the movie. I had to sit ___ the front row.
10. I always sit ___ the front in my class.
1. on 2. at 3. on 4. on 5. at 6. in 7. on 8. at 9. in 10. at