Prepositions of place : at-in-on
We use ‘at’ to talk about a place as a point.
We use ‘in’ to talk about a place as an area.
We use ‘on’ to talk about a place as a surface.
1. We use ‘at’ when we are thinking of a place as a point in space.
She waited at the bus stop for over twenty minutes.
‘Where were you last night?’ - ‘At Mick's house.’
2. We also use ‘at’ with words such as ‘back’, ‘bottom’, ‘end’, ‘front’, and ‘top’ to talk about the different parts of a place.
Mrs Castle was waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
They escaped by a window at the back of the house.
I saw a taxi at the end of the street.
We use ‘at’ with public places and institutions. Note that we also say ‘at home’ and ‘at work’.
I have to be at the station by ten o'clock.
We landed at a small airport.
A friend of mine is at Training College.
She wanted to stay at home.
We say ‘at the corner’ or ‘on the corner’ when we are talking about streets.
The car was parked at the corner of the street.
There's a telephone box on the corner.
We say ‘in the corner’ when we are talking about a room.
She put the chair in the corner of the room.
3. We use ‘in’ when we are talking about a place as an area. We use ‘in’ with:
a country or geographical region
When I was in Spain, it was terribly cold.
A thousand homes in the east of Scotland suffered power cuts.
a city, town, or village
I've been teaching at a college in London.
a building when you are talking about people or things inside it
They were sitting having dinner in the restaurant.
We also use ‘in’ with containers of any kind when talking about things inside them.
She kept the cards in a little box.
4. Compare the use of ‘at’ and ‘in’ in these examples.
I had a hard day at the office. (‘at’ emphasizes the office as a public place or institution)
I left my coat behind in the office. (‘in’ emphasizes the office as a building)
There's a good film at the cinema. (‘at’ emphasizes the cinema as a public place)
It was very cold in the cinema. (‘in’ emphasizes the cinema as a building.)
5. When talking about addresses, we use ‘at’ when you give the house number, and ‘in’ when we just give the name of the street.
They used to live at 5, Weston Road.
She got a job in Oxford Street.
Note that American English uses ‘on’: ‘He lived on Penn Street.’
We use ‘at’ when we are talking about someone's house.
I'll see you at Fred's house.
6. We use ‘on’ when we are talking about a place as a surface. We can also use ‘on top of’.
I sat down on the sofa.
She put her keys on top of the television.
We also use ‘on’ when we are thinking of a place as a point on a line, such as a road, a railway line, a river, or a coastline.
Scrabster is on the north coast.
Oxford is on the A34 between Birmingham and London.