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At vs. In vs. On (Place Prepositions)

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Common mistakes

  1. (NG) I went to a restaurant at Brooklyn.
    1. (OK) I went to a restaurant in Brooklyn.
  2. (NG) He works in Madison Avenue.
    1. (OK) He works on Madison Avenue.

Grammar words and phrases in context

I work at Happy English. The office is on Madison Avenue in Midtown. That’s in New York City. I am usually in the office by eight-thirty every morning. You can usually find me at my desk, when I am not working with students.

We use in when we talk about a place with a border, like in a country, in a city, in a town, in a county, and in a neighborhood.

  1. Vincent lives in France.
  2. Jeff spent a week in London on business.
  3. Jeremy lives in Brooklyn, but she works in Manhattan.
  4. We went to a nice restaurant in Chinatown.

We also use in when we talk about a place with walls or fences, like in a park, in a building, in a box.

  1. It’s a nice day. Let’s have a picnic in the park.
  2. Her husband works in an Art Deco building.
  3. We have a few bottles of wine in the refrigerator.

We use on when we talk about a street, but not the address, just the street name itself.

  1. His office is on Madison Avenue.
  2. There are a lot of interesting places on Broadway.
  3. There used to be many discount shops on Canal Street.

We use both in and on when we talk about directions (north, east, south, and west), but the grammar is different depending on how those direction words are used.

When north, east, south, and west are used as nouns, we use in:

  1. New York is in the east and California in the west.
  2. It’s cold in the north, especially in the winter.
  3. People in the south like to eat spicy foods.

But when north, east, south, and west are used as adjectives, we use on:

  1. Jeff lives on the west side of town.
  2. There are many flags on the south side of the building.
  3. James’ office is on the upper West side.

We use at when we talk about an address. An address contains a number and a street name.

  1. His office is at 475 Madison Avenue.
  2. Joe works at 500 Broadway.
  3. I live at 333 Canal Street.

We also use at when we talk about a particular point on a street or in a town.

  1. His office is at the corner of Madison and 39th Street
  2. I think Jane lives at the end of this block.

But we use in when we talk about the middle of something.

  1. My office is in the middle of the block.
  2. There is a lake in the middle of the park.

We also use at to talk about one specific point during a trip.

  1. This train will make stops at Lincoln Center, Times Square, and SOHO.
  2. I stopped off at the coffee shop on the way to my office.
  3. When I went from NYC to Sao Paolo, I stopped at Miami to change planes.

We use at when we want to refer to one specific point. This could be a point in time, or a physical point in a place. Often this physical point is an object:

  1. Jack is at his desk. His desk is the specific point or object of Jack’s location
  2. I waited at the bus stop for twenty minutes.
  3. Grandma is knitting at the window.
  4. The teacher is at the whiteboard.

We also have some set phrases with in and at that have a specific meaning:

  1. Jack is in the hospital. He is a patient there.
  2. The bank robber is finally in jail. He is incarcerated.
  3. Jane was in bed until noon. She was sleeping or relaxing.
  4. I was at work all night last night. I was working in my office.
  5. I plan to stay at home I won’t go out today.
  6. Jenny is at college, so her sister has their bedroom to herself. Jenny is living in her college dormitory.
  7. The cruise includes 6 nights at sea traveling on the ocean.

We also use at to talk about events:

  1. I had a great time at the concert last night.
  2. I met Jack at the party last weekend.
  3. Cathy made a great presentation at the meeting

We use in when we talk about a town, a city, or country:

  1. Jane lives in Hartsdale, a suburb of New York City.
  2. I live in New York.
  3. New York City is the largest city in the USA.

We use at before a school or company:

  1. I work at Happy English.
  2. Jack got his MBA at Harvard University.
  3. Nick works at Google.

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