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How to use on, at, in ?
  • 7 answers
AussieInBg profile picture AussieInBg2 weeks ago
On: to describe two or more objects contacting/touching each other. The painting is on the wall = the painting and the wall are contacting/touching each other.

At: for a specific location. I’m at home = my specific location is ”home”.

In: something/someone is surrounded by something. I am in the room = the walls of the room surround me.

She is in London = the buildings and other features of London such as streets and The Thames River surround her.

Sometimes, it’s possible to use more than one, e.g. I’m at the sea = my location is the seaside.

I’m in the sea = I’m swimming. There is seawater surrounding me.


I’m at Central Square = my location is a place called ”Central Square”.

I’m in Central Square = The features of the location ”Central Square” surround me such as lawns, trees and park benches.

British English tends to use ”at Central Square” more often whereas ”in Central Square” is more frequently used when speaking American English. Why? My observations as a neutral Australian are that location is more important for British English speakers while defining the surroundings is more for Americans.

It’s possible to use all three prepositions at once:

My carpet is on the floor in the living room at my parents’ place

= my carpet and the floor touch each other

+ the walls of the living room surround my carpet and the wall

+ my carpet, the floor and the living room have the location ”my parents’ place”.
Lordefe profile picture Lordefe2 weeks ago
At is used mostly for living beings and in locations that cannot are not objects. Example : I am AT the meeting . ”Meeting ” is not a physical object ,so using other prepositions like : inside , on, under etc.. will not suffice.
  • AussieInBg profile picture AussieInBg2 weeks ago
    This is definitely a more metaphorical use of ”at”. When we say that we are ”at the meeting”, we are really saying ”we are at the place where the meeting is being held”.

    Americans would tend to say ”in a meeting”.
Lordefe profile picture Lordefe2 weeks ago
”On” is used when an object is found directly above another object. Example: The bottle is ON the table.
  • AussieInBg profile picture AussieInBg2 weeks ago
    It’s not always the case that ”on” means an object directly above another object. Take a look at, for example, ”The painting is on the wall”, which I had written about in my post. In this case, neither the painting nor the wall are above each other.

    If you want to emphasise that an object is directly above another object, then you would use, as per your example,

    ”The bottle is on top of the table.”
Lordefe profile picture Lordefe2 weeks ago
In is used when an object or person is inside or within another object. Example : I am IN the room, the book is IN the shelf.
  • AussieInBg profile picture AussieInBg2 weeks ago

    Almost always, we would say ”the book is on the shelf”. This is because the book and the shelf surfaces make contact.

    For sure, ”The book is in the bookcase” can be correct - if you want to emphasise that the shelf and sides of the bookcase surround the book.