Prepositions are used to show relationships between objects, people, and places. The prepositions "in," "on," and "at" are often used to express these relationships, as are "into," "onto" and "out of."
This guide to the prepositions of place provides basic rules for beginning level English learners and classes. Each preposition is presented has with explanations of proper use and examples to help with understanding. Important exceptions are also included at the end of the lesson.
How to Use the Preposition 'In'
Use "in" with cities, regions, counties, states, and countries
- I live in Portland which is a city in Oregon.
- She works in Seattle which is in King County.
Use "in" with spaces that you can physically walk into, or place something into. These could be inside or buildings or outside as well.
- in a room / in a building (indoors)
- in a garden / in a park (outdoors)
- Let's meet in the gym after class.
- I'm going to see Tom in that building over there.
- I enjoy walking in the garden at dusk.
- She's out jogging with her friends in the park.
Use "in" with bodies of water:
- in the water
- in the sea / river / lake / pond / ocean
- That duck is swimming in the water.
- You can see the fish in the water.
- Unfortunately, there's a lot of pollution in this sea.
- How many fishing lines can you see in the river?
Use "in" with lines:
- in a row / line / queue
- There are so many people standing in that queue.
- Please stand in a row and let me count you.
- You'll have to stand in that line over there.
How to Use the Preposition 'At'
Use "at" with places in a town, city or other community:
- at the bus-stop / movies / shopping mall / park / museum / etc.
- I'll meet you at the bus stop.
- I saw Peter at the movies last night.
- I was at the shopping mall and decided I had to buy this sweater.
- Let's see the exhibit at the museum.
Use "at" with places on a page:
- at the top / bottom of the page
- You'll find the page number at the top of the page.
- Make sure to read the notes at the bottom of the page.
Use "at" with places within a room or large space:
- at the back / front of the class / room / stadium
- I think you'll find him at the front of the class.
- They're seated at the back of the bus.
How to Use the Preposition 'On'
Use "on" with vertical or horizontal surfaces that you can lay something onto, or attach something to:
- on the ceiling / wall / floor / table / etc.
- I left the magazine on that table.
- Isn't that a beautiful painting on the wall?
- You have such lovely candles on the mantelpiece.
Use "on" with islands:
- I stayed on Maui.
- Have you seen the volcano on the smaller island?
Use "on" with directions:
- on the left / on the right / straight on
- Take the next turn on the left.
- His house is on the right.
- Drive straight on to the stop light.
How to Use the Preposition 'Into'
Use "into" to express movement from one area into another:
- I drove into the garage and parked the car.
- Peter walked into the living room and turned on the TV.
How to Use the Preposition 'Onto'
Use "onto" to show that someone puts something onto a surface:
- He put the magazines onto the table.
- Alice put the plates onto the shelf in the cupboard.
How to Use the Preposition 'Out of'
Use "out of" when moving something towards you or when leaving a room:
- I took the clothes out of the washer.
- He drove out of the garage.
Important Notes and Exceptions
In the corner of a room, but at or on the corner of a street.
- That's a pretty box in the corner of the room.
- I'll get off at the next corner.
In / at / on the front versus in the front or in the back of a car
- Can you hand me the sandwich in the front of the car?
- My jacket is in the back of the car.
At the front / back of buildings / groups of people
- He's standing at the front of the crowd.
- You'll find him at the back of the parking garage.
On the front / back of a piece of paper
- Write your name on the front of the test and hand it in.
- Make sure to check if there are any questions on the back of the page.