Prepositions of Time

Prepositions allow us to talk about the relationship between two words in a sentence. Here, we will discuss the different prepositions of time in English.

Prepositions of Time in English Grammar

What Are Prepositions of Time?

Prepositions of time help us talk about a specific time and they describe when or for how long something happens in the present, the future, or the past. They show the relationship between a noun or pronoun and a specific time or time period.

Main Prepositions of Time

The English language has three main prepositions of time and some other prepositions of time. Let us discuss the main ones first:

  1. At
  2. On
  3. In

At

using 'at' to talk about time

'At' is used to talk about a specific time, such as:

  1. Hours and minutes
  2. Precise times, like midday, midnight, dawn, sunrise etc.
  3. Holidays or festivals that are two or more days, like Christmas and Easter

Take a look at some examples:

I get up at 8 o'clock.

I start my work at 9:15.

The meeting starts at noon on Monday.

We say 'at noon' because noon is a specific hour; it is 12 o'clock in the morning.

We go to a lot of parties at Christmas.

On

using 'on' to talk about time

'On' is used to talk about a specific day, such as:

  1. Days of the week
  2. Specific dates
  3. Special holidays or festivals that are one day, like Independence Day

Take a look at some examples:

I go to English class on Thursdays.

I was born on December 31st.

She receives a paycheck on the 19th of May.

I eat cake with my friends and open presents on my birthday.

Tip!

We can use both 'at' and 'on' with Christmas as a holiday, but the meanings are different. Generally, 'on Christmas' is used to talk about the specific day, while 'at Christmas' is used to refer to the holiday period.

In

'In' is used to talk about longer periods of time, such as:

  1. Months
  2. Seasons
  3. Years
  4. Decades
  5. Centuries
  6. Length of time, like 'in the past', 'in an hour', 'in the Ice Age'

Take a look at some examples:

Jane and Alan are getting married in June.

We're travelling to Italy in the summer.

World War II started in 1939.

What kind of music was popular in the 1980s?

The scientific revolution happened in the 17th century.

Do you think men can travel to Mars in the future?

Parts of the Day

We normally divide a day into different parts, e.g., morning, afternoon, noon, etc. Using prepositions with them is a little tricky because there's an exception to the rule. Study the table carefully:

in the morning
in the afternoon
in the evening
at night

As you can see, we cannot use the preposition 'in' with 'night'. We must use 'at night'.
Also, note that parts of the day like noon, midnight, or sunrise are not time periods, they are specific times of the day.

Bats only hunt at night.

I go jogging in the afternoons.

Tip!

When we want to mention both the day of the week and the specific part of that day, we must use the preposition 'on'.
On + Day of the week + Part of the Day

There's a great movie to watch on Saturday night.

Mary's baby was born on Tuesday morning.

When Not to Use Prepositions

Remember that we do not use these three time prepositions with the following time expressions:

  1. Tomorrow
  2. Today
  3. Yesterday
  4. Tonight
  5. This + time expression (like this morning, this evening)
  6. Last + time expression (like last night, last Friday)
  7. Next + time expression (like next morning)
  8. Every + time expression (like every afternoon)

Take a look at some examples:

She's got a dentist appointment today.

I go to gym every evening.

I'm moving out of the apartment next month.

I ate a pancake with syrup this morning.

At the Weekend or On the Weekend?

Both are correct. The choice depends on the variety of English you are using. 'At the weekend' is used in British English, while in American English 'on the weekend' is the common expression.

The museum is open on the weekend. (American English)

The museum is open at the weekend. (British English)

Other Prepositions of Time

Now that we have covered the three main prepositions, let's go through other prepositions of time in the English language, namely:

By

'By' means 'no later than the time mentioned'. When we use 'by' with a specific time, it means on or before the mentioned time. 'By' indicates a deadline for an event. Take a look at the examples:

He said he'll be here by seven o'clock.

He must be here before seven o'clock. The deadline is 7:00.

All students must submit their proposals by May 28th.

Students must submit their proposals no later than May 28th.

Until

'Until' (also till, til, 'til) is both a preposition and a conjunction. When it is used as a preposition, it talks about an action that is continuous and stops at a specific time. It refers to the duration of an action before a specific time. For example:

We stayed awake and talked until midnight.

Here, it means up to midnight, for a continuous duration.

Mark lived in London until 2010.

Mark spent a duration of time living in London, and then stopped living in London in 2010.

From...to

'From...to' shows the duration of an event or activity. 'From' shows the start time and 'to' shows the finish time. You can also use 'until' or 'till' instead of 'to'. Take a look at the examples:

The class is from 9 A.M. to 10 A.M.

The meeting is from 6 o'clock to 8 o'clock.

Or 'The meeting is from 6 o'clock until 8 o'clock'.

Since

'Since' shows a period of time that started in the past and continued until a later time in the past, or until the present. It is used with the present perfect or past perfect tense. Pay attention to the examples:

They've worked here since 2009.

She's been off work since Tuesday.

For

As a preposition of time, 'for' indicates duration of time. It can be used for all tenses, past, present, or future. But mainly, it is used in perfect tenses. For example:

He lived in New York for 5 years.

I'm only going to stay for 2 hours today.

Before

'Before' as a preposition of time, shows that something happened, is happening, or happened at or during a time earlier than the time of speaking. Pay attention to the examples:

He had to leave home before 10 A.M.

I want to study before the exam tomorrow.

After

'After' is the opposite of 'before'. It shows that something happened, is happening, or happened at or during a time following another period of time.

They arrived after 10:00.

Let's leave after dinner.

During

'During' is used to say when something happens. It indicates the length of a period of time. It can also mean at some point in that period of time.

People listened to a lot of jazz during the 1920s.

Paul and Susan didn't talk much during the first minutes of their first date.

Between

'Between' as a preposition almost always comes with the word 'and'; i.e. 'between A and B'. It shows a limited time period within two points in time. For example:

There's a big sale on Macy's between Monday 13th and Thursday 16th.

The train should arrive between 9:00 and 9:15.

Within

'Within' is a preposition that indicates that something happens before or at the end of a particular period of time. It suggests that the action will happen in a shorter amount of time than the duration of the period mentioned. Take a look at the examples:

According to the diet, you should lose 7 lb. within 7 days.

He should be under surveillance within the next 24 hours.

Past

'Past' is one of the prepositions used to tell time, especially in British English (in American English, 'after' is also used). For example:

It's half past three.

The movie starts at twenty minutes past seven.

Review

A preposition of time is a preposition that helps you discuss a specific time period such as a 'date on the calendar,' 'one of the days of the week,' or the certain time something takes place. There are 3 main prepositions of time that are numbered from 1 to 3 in our table. You can see other prepositions of time in the following table, too.

1. at 2. on 3. in 4. by 5. until (till, til, ’til) 6. from...to 7. since
8. for 9. before 10. after 11. during 12. between 13. within 14. past

Here are the usages of 'at' as a time preposition.

at 1. hours and minutes 2. precise times, like midday, midnight, dawn, sunrise etc. 3. holidays or festivals that are two or more days, like Christmas and Easter I get up at 8 o'clock.

Here are the usages of 'on' as a preposition of time:

on 1. days of the week 2. specific dates 3. special holidays or festivals that are one day, like Independence Day

Here are the usages of 'in' as a preposition of time.

in 1. months 2. seasons 3. years
4. decades 5. centuries 6. length of time, like in the past, in an hour, in the Ice Age

Here are some time expressions in which you should not use a preposition at all.

1. tomorrow 2. today 3. yesterday 4. tonight
5. this + time expression (like this morning, this evening) 6. last + time expression (like last night, last Friday) 7. next + time expression (like next morning) 8. every + time expression (like every afternoon)

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