In, On, At - Location


in diagram 1


1. in


in diagram 2


2. in

on diagram 1

3. on



on diagram 2




4. on



at diagram



5. at


1. In is used for location inside areas:

cities: in New York
parts of cities: in Brooklyn, in Soho, in Greenwich Village, in the suburbs
states and provinces: in California, in British Columbia
countries: in England
continents: in Asia, in Antarctica
regions: in the southwest, in the northern hemisphere
deserts: in the Sahara, in the desert
valleys: in the valley, in the canyon
mountains: in the Alps, in the mountains
wooded areas: in the woods, in the forest, in the orchard
grassy areas: in the field, in the garden, in the grass, in the meadow, in the pasture, in the park, in the yard
and with words like area, region, and zone

2. In is used for location inside a three-dimensional space:

in the attic
in the basement
in the bathroom
in the bedroom
in the building
in the cellar
in the classroom
in the closet
in the elevator
in the garage
in the hotel
in the house
in the kitchen
in the office
in the room

in the bay
in the creek
in the lake
in the ocean
in the pond
in the reservoir
in the river
in the stream
in the water

in the car
in the glove compartment
in the taxi
in the trunk [of the car]
in my hand
in her handbag
in my pocket
in his wallet

in the bag                 
in the barrel
in the box
in the bottle
in the can
in the cask
in the cup
in the glass
in the jar
in the jug
in the pitcher
in the tube
in the vat

in the book                         
in the preface
in the introduction
in the appendix
in the index
in the table of contents
in Chapter 10
in Section 3

in the magazine
in the newspaper
in the catalog
in the contract
in the document
in the instructions
in the lease
in the letter
in the freezer
in the oven
in the refrigerator

3. & 4. On is used to indicate contact with a line or surface:

on the ceiling
on the floor
on the (first, second, etc.) floor
on the patio
on the porch
on the roof
on the stairs
on the steps
on the wall
on the window

on the counter
on the desk
on the table

on the corner
on the ground

on an island

on the plate

on the top
on the bottom
on the inside
on the outside

on a river
on the Nile
on the Rhine
on the Seine
on the Thames

on the lake (next to the lake)

on the sidewalk
on Elm street

on the edge
on the side
on the left
on the right

We use on for animals used for transportation:

on a camel
on a donkey
on an elephant
on a horse
on a mule

We use on with vehicles that permit freedom of movement (walking, standing, etc.):

on a bicycle
on a bus
on a motorcycle
on an ocean liner
on a plane
on a 747
on a jumbo jet
on a ship
on a train

We use in with vehicles that do not permit much freedom of movement:

in a balloon
in a car
in a cab
in an elevator
in a plane (a small private plane)
in a taxi

5. We use at when we think of something as simply a point on a map, without dimensions:

at the bank
at the movies
at the restaurant
at the baseball game
at the concert
at the race

We use at with blackboard, desk, door, and window to indicate that the person is using the thing mentioned:

at the blackboard [the teacher is writing or indicating something on the blackboard]
at the desk [a person is sitting in a chair behind the desk]
at the door [someone is knocking, for example]
at the window [a person is near the window and is looking out of it]

Confusing Uses

Compare:

There are a lot of fish in the lake. [under the surface of the water]
There are a lot of boats on the lake today. [on the surface of the water]
He built a house on the lake. [next to the lake]

Compare:

He is in the house. [house is thought of as a three-dimensional object]
He is at home. [home is thought of as a point]

Compare:

Mr. Nelson is at the restaurant. [He is eating. The restaurant is viewed as a point, only in terms of its function.]
There is a bar in the restaurant. [The restaurant is viewed as a three-dimensional object. The bar is inside the restaurant.]

Compare:

There is a fly on the window. [window is thought of as a surface]
There is a candle in the window. [window is thought of as an area]

Compare:

The teacher is sitting at the desk. [in a chair behind the desk]
The teacher is sitting on the desk. [on the surface of the desk]

Compare:

He is at the movies. [He is in the movie theater watching the movie.]
He is in the movies. [He is an actor. He appears in movies.]

Compare:

The players are on the field. [field viewed as a playing surface]
The sheep are in the field.[field viewed as an area enclosed by a fence]

Compare:

She is at the hospital. [She is visiting or working there.]
She is in the hospital. [She is a patient.]

Compare:

How many people are there in the world? [world is considered an inhabited area]
When did life on Earth begin? [our planet is usually viewed as a surface, as seen from space]

Compare:

John is at the beach. [the land next to the ocean]
John is lying on the beach. [on the surface of the sand]
San Francisco is on the West Coast. [Coast is thought of as a line.]

Compare:

My friend lives in Madrid. [Madrid is viewed as an area.]
Our plane stopped at Madrid before continuing on to Rome. [Madrid is viewed as a point on a map or itinerary.]

Compare:

We arrived at the airport around midnight. [airport is a point in the city]
We arrived in the city around midnight. [city is an area]

Compare:

The birds built a nest in that tree. [tree viewed as a three-dimensional space]
There are a lot of oranges on that tree. [growing on the tree, which is viewed as a surface]

Compare:

There was a sign on the wall. [on the surface of the wall]
There was a boy sitting on the wall. [on top of the wall]

Compare:

There were a lot of people standing in line. [in a row]
How many people are online/on line? [connected to or using the Internet]

Some Advice

Notice that in many of these pairs, the difference is in the point of view of the speaker. The choice of in, on, or at often depends upon whether we view something as having three, two, one, or zero dimensions. If you are having difficulty with these prepositions, try memorizing some of the examples on this page; it will help you to understand the differences.

Practice the uses of in, on, and at for location with these exercises:

In, On, At Location Exercises:
Back to Grammar Page

This page was last modified on 06/15/10

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