Right Usage of ‘at, in and to’

At, on and in: place

At

At is used to talk about position at a point.

  • It’s very hot at the centre of the earth.
  • Turn right at the next corner.

Sometimes we use at with a larger place, if we just think of this as a point: a stage on a journey or a meeting place, for example.

Compare:

  • The plane stops for an hour at Frankfurt. (a point on a journey)
  • She lives in Frankfurt. (somebody’s home)
  • Let’s meet at the club. (a meeting point)
  • It was warm and comfortable in the club. (a place to spend time)

We very often use at before the name of a building, when we are thinking not of the building itself but of the activity that happens there.

  • There’s a good film at the cinema in Market Street.
  • Eat at the Steak House ~ best food in town.
  • Sorry [ didn’t phone last night – I was at the theatre.

At is particularly common with proper names used for buildings or
organizations.

Compare:

  • I first met your father at/in Harrods.
  • I first met your father in a shop.
  • She works at Legal and General Insurance.
  • She works in a big insurance company.

At is used to say where people study.
He’s at the London School of Economics.

We use at with the name of a city to talk about the city’s university. He’s a student at Oxford. He lives in Cambridge.

At is also used before the names of group activities.

  • at a party
  • at a lecture
  • at a meeting
  • at a concert
  • at the match

On

On is used to talk about position on a line (for example a road or a river).

  • His house is on the way from Aberdeen to Dundee.
  • Stratford is on the river Avon.

But in is used for the position of things which form part of the line.

  • There’s a misprint in line 6 on page 22.
  • Who’s the good-looking boy in the sixth row?

On is used for position on a surface.

  • Hurry up – supper’s on the table!
  • That picture would look better on the other wall.
  • There’s a big spider on the ceiling.

On can mean ‘attached to’.

  • Why do you wear that ring on your first finger?
  • There aren’t many apples on the tree this year.

On is also used for position by a lake or sea.
Bowness is on Lake Windermere.
Southend-on-Sea

In

In is used for position inside large areas, and in three-dimensional space
(when something is surrounded on all sides).

I don’t think he’s in his office.
She grew up in Swaziland.
He lived in the desert for three years.
Let’s go for a walk in the woods.
I last saw her in the car park.

 We use on (and off) to talk about travel using public transport (buses, trains, planes and boats), as well as (motor)cycles and horses.

  • There’s no room on the bus; let’s get off again.
  • He’s arriving on the 3.15 train.
  • We’re booked on flight 604.
  • It took five days to cross the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth.
  • I’ll go down to the shop on my bike.

But we use in and out (of) to talk about cars and small private planes and
boats.
She came in a taxi. He fell into the river when he was getting out of his canoe.

We generally use at (not to) after arrive; in is used before very large places.

  • He arrives at the airport at 15.30.
  • What time do we arrive in New York

We generally use at to talk about addresses.

  • Are you still at the same address? She lives at 73 Albert Street.

We use in (AmE on) if we just give the name of the street.

  • She lives in Albert Street.

We use on for the number of the floor.

  • She lives in a flat on the third floor.

At can be used with a possessive to mean ‘at somebody’s house or shop’.

  • Where’s lane? ~ She’s round at Pat’s.
  • You’re always at the hairdresser’s. 

    7 special expressions

Note these expressions:

in/at church
in the sky
at home/work
in/at school/college
in a picture
in a tent
in a hat
in the rain
in bed / (the) hospital/prison
on a farm
working on the railway
The map is on page 32. (BUT I opened the book at page 32.)

 

at, on and in: time

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