In/On/At – Are you bedeviled by these prepositions?

Gerard suggested that a discussion of the prepositions in, on, and at might prove beneficial. As the Bible quote goes, Ask and ye shall receive.

Let me start out with a long sentence to begin the lesson.

We live in the universe in a galaxy in a solar system on a planet in a country in a city on a street in our home at a certain street address. Whew! Any questions? That concludes this lesson. Just kidding…

This is a difficult undertaking. Hm, how to go about it?

Let’s start with in and on. In general, in has the sense of inside of and on has the sense of “on top of”.

Some Examples of Things We Can Be IN or ON

  • in a car, truck, building, retail store, room, situation, pinch, hard spot, pickle, movie, picture, photograph, painting, conversation, hurry, rush, duel, fight, war, battle, race, performance, example, ditch, traffic lane, quandary, chair, line (queue), year, month, day, hour, minute, sentence, word, fire, competition, contest, game, glass, cup, bowl, circle, square, river, lake (inside of)
  • in the eye, sky, clouds, center, front, back, water, air, ocean, sea
  • on a bus, boat, ship, train, plane, bridge, roof, road, sidewalk, bed, stage, platform, scaffold, plate, dish, shore (can walk around inside of or on top off)
  • on a bicycle, motorcycle, horse, fence, table, car (on the hood or roof, not inside!), couch or sofa,wall, shirt or piece of clothing (on top of or on the front side of)
  • on a schedule, budget, tightrope, deadline, side, computer monitor, chalk board, whiteboard, football field, basketball court
  • on the top, bottom, side, inside, outside, corner, skin, surface, contrary, other hand, screen, tip of my tongue
  • on someone’s side, in someone’s court, on someone’s behalf, on short notice, on the clock

Some Special Expressions to Be Aware Of (my opinion)

  • on edge/on the edge, on time/in time, on the ball, on land
  • in line, in a moment, in bed, in need, in dire straits, in flight
  • in hand/in a hand, in my mind/on my mind, on the brain
  • on the one hand…on the other hand
  • in the way/on the way, on average
  • on the wing

Some Examples of Places We Can Be AT

Generally, we use at when we can view a place or location as if we were looking at it on a map. At does NOT imply inside or outside. You are simply at a location. You may be out front, at the front, or inside the location.

  • I am at this address, the mall, the seashore, back of the house, front of the building, side of the road

Some Special Expressions to Be Aware Of (my opinion)

  • at your disposal, at your beck and call, at this moment, at this time
  • at will, at a bad moment, at a bad time, at a moment’s notice
  • at your mercy, at once, at the drop of a hat, at sea, at hand

This is enough for now! I don’t want to overwhelm you.
(What’s that? Someone from the back of the room says “It’s too late.”)

As you can see, there are myriad uses of in, on, and at. I have listed only a handful that quickly came to mind.

I guess the next phase of this lesson would be to have you students use some of these usages in sentences so we can see how they are used. Any takers?

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