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The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating place and location. The general rule isto use “in” for an enclosed space, “at” for a point, and “on” for a surface. Here are somespecific guidelines for their use in American English:Use “in” for spaces: “They always meet in a secret room [in a suburban hotel, in aparking lot, in a farm, in a ricefield].”Use “in” for names of specific land areas: “She lives in a quiet town [in Tagaytay, inCavite, in Southern Tagalog, in the island of Palawan, in the Philippines, in SoutheastAsia].Use “in” for bodies of water: “That kind of fish thrives in freshwater [in the river, in thelake, in streams, in the sea].”Use “in” for lines: “The registrants are in a row [in a line, in a queue].”Use “at” to indicate points: “You’ll find us at the entrance [at the taxi stand, at thesupermarket, at the intersection].”Use “at” for specific addresses, as in “She lives at 40 Lilac St.”Use “on” for names of streets, roads, avenues, and boulevards: “Her apartment is onSan Pablo Street [on Ortigas Avenue, on Santolan Road, on Roxas Boulevard].”Use “on” for surfaces: “There’s a large stain on the floor [on the wall, on the ceiling, onthe roof].”The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating location.Use “in” in these cases: “The children are in the kitchen [in the garden, in the car, in thelibrary, in the class, in school]. (The article “the” is mandatory except for the fourth andlast example.)Use “at” in these particular cases: “She was at home [at the library, at the office, atschool, at work] when we arrived.”Use “on” in these particular cases: “They are on the plane [on the train, on the boat].”Some locations, though, don’t need a preposition between them and the verb: “Theysleep downstairs [inside, outside, downtown, upstairs, uptown].”Rules for Usage:PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH MOTION AND DIRECTIONThe prepositions of motion “to,” “toward,” “in,” and “into.” These four prepositions linkthe verbs of movement—“move,” “go,” “transfer,” “walk,” “run,” “swim,” “ride,” “drive,”“fly,” “travel,” and many more—to their object destination. All of these verbs, except“transfer,” can take both “to” and “toward.”We must keep in mind, however, that “to” is used to convey the idea of movement
toward a specific destination, while “toward” is used to convey movement in a generaldirection that may not reach a specific destination:“Please take me to the bus station.”(The speaker obligates the listener to specifically take him to a particular place.)“The speedboat headed toward the harbor.”(The speaker indicates only a movement in a general direction.)We can actually interchange “into” and “in” more or less freely when used with verbs ofmotion. There are exceptions, though. We can only use “in” (or “inside”) when thepreposition is the last word in the sentence or occurs right before an adverbial of time(“today,” “tomorrow”), manner (“quickly,” “hurriedly”) or frequency (“once,” “twice”).Examples: “The woman went into the manager’s office.” “The woman went in twice.”“The woman went in.” “The new tenants moved into the apartment yesterday” “The newtenants moved in hurriedly.” “The new tenants moved in.”We can also use “into” as the last word in a question: “What sort of trouble have yougotten yourself into?” But we should use “in” if the question is said in this form: “Whatsort of trouble are you in?”“In/into” also has two unique uses with the verb “move.” The first is when “move in” isfollowed by a clause indicating purpose or motive: “The hunters moved in for the kill.”“The soldiers moved in for the attack.” In both examples, “in” is part of the verb phrase,so we cannot use “into.”The second case is when we use “into” with “move” to convey the idea of simplemovement: “The firemen moved into the burning building.”The prepositions of direction “to,” “onto,” and “into.” These prepositions correspond tothe common prepositions of location: “to” for “at,” “onto” for “on,” and “into” for “in.” Eachis defined by the same space relations of point, line, surface, or area as in theprepositions of location.“To,” the basic directional preposition, signifies orientation toward a goal. If that goal isphysical, like a specific destination, “to” conveys the idea of movement in the direction ofthat goal: “The troops returned to their base.”“Toward,” of course, also works as a directional preposition, and means about the samething as the directional preposition “to.” If the goal is not a physical place, as in an action,“to” simply puts the verb in the infinitive form to express a particular purpose: “She singsto earn extra money.” “She cut her hair to show her displeasure.”The directional prepositions “onto” and “into” are, as we know, compounds formed by“to” with corresponding prepositions of location: on + to = onto, to signify movementtoward a surface, and in + to = into, to signify movement inside a finite three-dimensionalspace or volume.When used with many verbs of motion, however, “on” and “in” already have a directionalmeaning. We therefore can freely use them instead of “onto” and “into.” Note that “on”
and “onto” work equally well in the following sentences: “The cats fell on [onto] the floor.”“The whales washed up onto [on] the beach.” “The girl jumped into [in] the river.”You will notice, however, that always, the compound locational prepositions “onto” and“into” convey the consummation of an action, while the simple locational prepositions“on” and “in” indicate the subject’s end-position as a result of the action.Let’s look at some examples.Consummation of action: “The boy fell onto [to] the ground.” “The sailor dived into [to]the pool.”Position of subject: “The boy is on the ground.” “The sailor is in the pool.”Now we discover something interesting: directional prepositions actually serve to conveythe idea of cause, while locational prepositions serve to convey the idea of effect. This,in fact, is as near a rule of thumb as we can get in dealing with these two kinds ofprepositions.We cannot leave this subject, of course, without discussing “at” as a preposition ofmotion and direction. Being the least specific of the prepositions in space orientation, wecan use “at” in a good number of ways.To mark a verb of motion directed towards a point: “She arrived at the airport late.” “Themarksman aimed at the hostage-taker with precision.”To indicate direction: “The man leaped at the thief to subdue him.” “She jumped at mewithout warning.”Rules for Usage:PREPOSITIONS THAT ESTABLISH RELATIONSHIPS IN TIMEThe prepositions for specific points in time: “on,” “at,” “in,” and “after.”“On” is used with the days of the week: “We are going out on Monday [on Tuesday, onSunday].”“On” is used for specific dates (optional in informal usage): “The trade fair will start onMarch 12, 2003 [on March 12, on the 12th of March, on the 12th ].”“At” is used with clocked time: “She picks her son from school at 4:30 p.m.”“At” is used with the following times of the day: “noon,” “night,” “midnight,” “sunrise,”“sunset”: “We sail for Palawan at noon [at midnight, at sunrise].”“At” is used with certain major holidays (without the word “Day”) as points of time: “Thefamily always gets together at Thanksgiving [at Christmas, at Easter, at Halloween].”“In” is used with the following times of the day: “morning,” “afternoon,” “evening”: “Shewaters her roses in the morning [in the afternoon, in the evening].”“In” is used with dates that do not carry the specific day: “The Spanish explorer reached
the Philippines in March 1521.”“In” is used with months, years, decades, and centuries as points of time: “The famouswriter was born in April [in 1946, in the 1940s, in the 20th century].”“In” is used with the seasons as points of time: “He promised not to leave her in autumn[in summer, in spring, in winter].”“After” is used with events that happen later than another event or point of time: “Theoverseas worker came home only after the holidays.”The prepositions for periods or extended time: “since,” “for,” “by,” “from...to,”“from...until,” “during,” “within,” “between,” and “beyond.”“Since” is used with an event that happens at some time or continuously after anothertime or event: “She has not watched a movie since last month.” “They have beenproducing noodles since the war.”“For” is used with particular durations: “Our president will be abroad for three weeks [notfor long, for most of next month].”“By” is used with an act completed or to be completed by a certain time: “She expects tofinish writing the book by April [by then, by the second quarter].”“From...to” is used to refer to the beginning and end of an activity or event: “The weatherwas stormy from Wednesday to Friday.”“From...until” is used to refer to the beginning of one period to the beginning of another:“Our sales rose continuously from Christmas until right before Holy Week.”“During” is used to refer to a period of time in which an event happens or an activity isdone: “She had coffee during the morning break.”“Between” is used to refer to an action taking place between the beginning and the endof a period: “You must get the job done between now and Friday.”“Within” is used to refer to an action that must take place or be completed within a givenperiod: “You must get the job done within the week.”“Beyond” is used to refer to a period of time after a particular event has taken place or aparticular time has elapsed: “Beyond the mid-1990s all of our offices had shifted to wordprocessors.”Prepositions for specific time frames. “In” is used with the three basic time frames:“past,” “present,” “future”: “He was a kindly man in the past.” “She is doing nothing in thepresent [“...at present” is the preferred usage at present].” “In the future, change the oilof your car regularly.”“In” is used with prescribed time periods: “The project must be completed in a month [ina year, in five years].”