Prepositions of Time for intermediate learners

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 are prepositions that show the relationship between a noun or pronoun and a specific time or time period. They help to clarify when something happens or for how long it occurs.

Common Prepositions of Time

Below is a list of the three main prepositions of time in English. Let us take a look:

Now, let us see how each one functions in sentences.

On

Generally, when we want to refer to a specific day, we use on. It can be used for festivals, special occasions, holidays, days of the week, and specific dates. Let us analyze some examples:

Anne's birthday was on 5th of July.

I won't be able to make it cause I'm going camping on Saturday.

Many Irish men and women go on dinner dates on Valentine's Day.

In

When we want to indicate longer periods of time, we use 'in' as a preposition of time. It can be used to refer to months, seasons, years, decades, centuries, etc. Take a look at the following examples:

Robert was greatly admired in 1989.

As you can see, the sentence is indicating a period of time rather than a specific day.

I plan on migrating to London in February.

There were many bloodthirsty serial killers in America in the 1970s.

At

When we want to talk about specific times, such as hours and minutes, or precise times of the day, we use 'at'. Take a look at the following examples:

The class starts at 8 o'clock.

We can have lunch at noon.

They arrived at midnight.

Tip!

Since we divide a day into different parts, using prepositions can become a little tricky. Take a look at the following examples:

She wants to sleep peacefully at night.

(Not on night or in night...)

Can you hand in your paperwork in the afternoon?

(Not at the afternoon or on the afternoon...)

Prepositions of Time: When NOT to Use Them

There are some words that cannot be used with any prepositions of time. Take a look at the list below:

  • Yesterday
  • Tomorrow
  • Tonight
  • Today
  • Every + Time Expression (like every evening)
  • This + Time Expression (like this afternoon)
  • Last + Time Expression (like last summer)
  • Next + Time Expression ( like next Sunday)

Now, let us take a look at some examples:

Mr. Paul has an important meeting today I'm afraid.

Do you have some free time this evening?

They take vitamins every morning.

Other Prepositions of Time

Now that we have gotten familiar with the main prepositions of time, let us move on to some other time prepositions used by native English speakers. Take a look at the following list:

  • By
  • From...to
  • Before/After
  • Within

Now, let us discuss each term separately:

By

When we want to indicate that something must be done before a specific time and should not continue after that, we mainly use 'by' as the preposition of time. Take a look at some examples below:

All students must be standing in line by 3 o'clock.

Here, it means that students must stand in line before the time mentioned.

The bombings must be over by the end of July.

From...to

When we want to state that something begins at a specific time and ends at another, we can use 'from...to'. Study the following examples carefully:

I'm at the office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

As you can see, the sentence is indicating when something begins and when it ends.

Angelica has a ballet class from 4 o'clock to 7 o'clock.

Tip!

We can also use 'till' and 'until' instead of 'to'. Take a look at the following example:

I've got three classes from 9 till 5.

Before/After

Usually, when we want to talk about something that happened earlier than something else, we use 'before'. On the contrary, when we want to talk about something that follows another thing, we use 'after'. Take a look at the following examples:

He said he had some private affair to attend to after the meeting.

As you can see, the sentence is indicating that one action follows another.

I want you to be prepared before going through all those pages.

As you can see, the sentence is indicating that something must be done first and then the other one.

Within

When we want to indicate that something should be done during a specific period of time, we use 'within'. Check out the following examples:

I told her that she should finish her novel within the next few days.

You'd better get prepared within two days.

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