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How to use prepositions of time

Prepositions cause us trouble in any language we are learning. English is no exception. From my point of view, they are tricky because we don't look at them systematically. In this post, I am going to show you a systematic approach to learning English prepositions of time. This way, they will be no problem for you anymore.

Basic time prepositions

These are at, on and in. They name different time lengths, namely points, days and time periods. We can put them into some kind of hierarchy to help us remember easier.
Let's have a look at the main principle:

 

prepositions-of-time

'AT' defines very short time periods, like moments and points.

We use 'ON' time periods equalling a day and all the phrases containing the word 'day'.

'IN' is used with periods of different length, including parts of the day, months, years and so on.

You can watch this video for a detailed explanation on how to use these prepositions:

Do this little test to check yourself.

Exercise 1. What preposition should be used in these sentences?

  1. I get up after 7.00 ___ winter.
  2. We are leaving for a holiday in Spain ___ next week.
  3. ___ tomorrow I am taking the exam for the second time.
  4. Are we meeting ___ Christmas day?
  5. I was born ___ 1994.
  6. We always work better ___ the morning.
  7. She last saw him ___ Tuesday evening.
  8. Any ideas what you are doing ___ Christmas?
  9. I travelled to 5 countries ___ last year.
  10. Why do you always travel ___ September?

Once you're done, go to the very end of this post for the correct answers. Watch the video once again if you need to revise it. And feel free to ask if you have a question or something is not clear.

prepositions-of-time-pinterest

Now let's move on to the intermediate prepositions of time.

It's better to see these prepositions in contrast to each other because their translation can be confusing for speakers of different languages. I have grouped them together according to the similarity in their meaning. I give plenty of examples to show you how different they are from each other. You can see definitions and examples in the following table:

prepositions-of-time-intermediate

You can find more examples and explanations in the second video:

And here is another exercise to check your understanding.

Exercise 2. What preposition should be used in these sentences?

  1. I haven't seen her ___ a year.
  2. My friends are staying ___ Friday.
  3. I got sunburnt ___ my visit to Spain.
  4. I haven't been cooking ___ last year.
  5. Have you been here ___?
  6. You have come ___ than usual.
  7. He stayed in that hotel ___ March ___ May.
  8. I will not fall sleep ___ you turn off the lights.
  9. He waited ___ 10 minutes and left.
  10. We'd better get out ___ your father see us.

You can find the correct answers in the final passage of the post. I will be happy to answer your questions if you have any. Let's chat in the comments section below!

Answers to exercises

Exercise 1

  1. in, 2. --, 3. --, 4. on, 5. in, 6. in, 7. on, 8. at, 9. --, 10. in

Exercise 2

  1. for, 2. until / till, 3. during, 4. since, 5. before, 6. earlier, 7. from...to, 8. until / till, 9. for, 10. before

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