Prepositions of PLACE 👉 IN / ON / AT / BY 👈 Common English Grammar Mistakes

Lesson Overview

English prepositions: These tiny words are so important! But they can be a little confusing at times too, right?

In this video, I explain how to use them when giving information about PLACE.

Video Transcript

Hello! This is Emma from mmmEnglish, back with another lesson on the mmmEnglish Youtube channel.

Now in English, we say:

“The school is on Bay Street.”
Not “The school is at Bay Street.”

“They live at 10 Park Road.”
Not “She lives in 10 Park Road.”

“The museum is in the city.”
Not “The museum is on the city.”

  • I live at 300 King Street, in an apartment, on the fourth floor.

These little words can cause lots of headaches if English is not your first language. They’re called prepositions and there are lots of them in English.

  • In
  • On
  • At
  • Bye
  • With
  • For
  • Over
  • Under
  • Of
  • To

They all help to give information about the time, location or direction in your English sentences.

in, on, at and by

In this lesson, we’ll take a closer look at these very useful English words. And we’ll concentrate on how you can use them to give information about the place or location of something.

Now, the bad news is that there’s no clear way of knowing which preposition you need to use. In fact, different prepositions can be used with the same words but this can change the meaning of your sentence.

  • Am I at the car? [At the location of the car?]
  • Am I in the car?
  • Am I on the car?

All of these sentences are okay but the meaning is different in each question.

Most of the time, you can’t just guess the correct preposition. It’s not really a good strategy to improve your English to improve your English – unless you’re a really lucky person!

The worst way to try and learn prepositions is to translate them from your native language. This can cause lots of problems.

Prepositions must be learned in chunks of words or called collocations – groups of words that are often used together. Like:

  • In the morning.
  • At night.
  • It depends on
  • He’s keen on football.

Learning this way will help you to make fewer mistakes with prepositions. Instead, pay attention to how native speakers pay attention to how native speakers use these prepositions. How are they used in the newspaper articles that you read or stories? What words are they used with?

And pay close attention to the general rules that I’ll teach you in this lesson, so that you can make so that you can make when choosing prepositions of place.


Let’s get started with “in”. Now the best way to think about the preposition, “in” is being within something, inside the edges of something. So let’s start really simply with containers or spaces that are enclosed.

  • I’ve got the key in my pocket.
  • She left it in the top drawer.
  • There’s nothing left in my cup. 

Now, it’s easy to think about all of these examples Now, it’s easy to think about all of these examples as being inside something because the edges are really clear. You can see inside them. There’s a clear inside and an outside. Right?

Take our earlier example, I’m in the car. The car has clear edges, I’m definitely inside the edges of the car.

We can use “in” with buildings or rooms and places that can surround a person or an object on all sides.

  • Can you take a seat in the waiting room, please?
  • I’ve left my bag in your office.
  • Why don’t we have a picnic in the park?

But there are lots of times when you need to use this preposition when the edges are less clear. when the edges are less clear. with areas or regions or cities and towns.

  • I’m filming this video in Spain.
  • I grew up in Melbourne.
  • Holidaying in France is easy if you speak French!
  • Regolisa is a small village in the mountains.
  • We’re going for a drive in the country.
  • Lots of people were swimming in the lake.

Now, all of these nouns have borders or edges, even if they’re not really obvious or clear. We can physically be located inside the edges of this space.

Now when talking about groups of people, you can often use “in”.

  • She works in the finance team, surrounded by people.
  • He got selected to play in the national team.

But there’s an exception for important high-level groups where members are often elected.

  • He’s on the board.
  • They’re on the committee, or on the council..

We can also use “in” with liquids and other substances or on the council.

  • Careful! There’s a lot of chilli in that sauce.
  • There’s too much sugar in soft drinks.
  • Do you have milk in your coffee?


Now the preposition “on” is used to talk about the position of something on surfaces on surfaces like walls or tables.

  • My phone is on the table. 
  • You can see a painting on the wall behind me.
  • We live on the fourth floor of the building.
  • Can you write it on that piece of paper?
  • He’s spilled ice cream on his new jumper!

Now, keep thinking about this idea of flat surfaces because it includes roads and streets and rivers.

  • The supermarket is on the corner of Martin Street.
  • Nice is on the south coast of France.

Now the idea of flat surfaces also includes water, so rivers, oceans, lakes.

  • What’s that on the water? [Floating on the water.]
  • We’ll take you out on the lake, in our boat.
  • We’ll be on the lake, in our boat.


Okay, now let’s talk about the preposition “at”. It’s used to talk about specific places or points in space.

  • Sarah’s still at school.
  • I’ll meet you at the bus stop.
  • Turn left at the traffic light.

Now it’s also used with public places and shops. Now it’s also used with public places and shops.

  • I studied design at college or school or university.
  • Let’s meet at the station.
  • We have to stop at the supermarket on the way home.
  • There was a crazy guy at the library today.

We also use it with addresses.

  • They live at 14 Eagle Road.
  • I’ll meet you at the corner of Beach Street and Park Road.
  • I had a coffee at Helen’s house.
    At her house, right? Careful, not to confuse the preposition with another, “with”.
  • I had a cup of coffee with Helen.

That means Helen, the person, not Helen’s house.

We can use “at” with events.

  • We met at a party.
  • He’s speaking at a conference later this week.

So in all of these examples, the preposition “at” is used to talk about specific places or points in space.

Okay I went through quite a few examples there, but let’s just stop and review the rules for a minute.

“At” is one-dimensional. Think of a map. When you’re looking at a map, you’re referring to a specific place or position in space.

“On” is more two-dimensional. You have a flat surface and you’re referring to the position of something or someone in relation to that surface. So you’re recognising the space around you a little more when you’re using that preposition.

Now “in” is the sort of three-dimensional preposition. So when you use it, you need to think about the position of something in relation to what surrounds it.

Now, of course, there are grey areas and many exceptions that will make you scratch your head and wonder, what?!

When you hear that expression, “grey areas” it means that something is unclear. It’s not black and it’s not white, it’s somewhere in the middle but we don’t know exactly where – it’s unclear. That’s a very common expression.

Now there are many grey areas for prepositions when you’re talking about the place or the location of something.

  • It’s on the corner.
  • Or it’s at the corner.

These two examples mean almost the same thing.

  • The museum is on the south side of the city.

So this expression, on the south side or on the right side or on the left side, it always uses the preposition “on”.

  • Your seat is on the left side.

Now I said before that Nice is on the south coast of France but Nice is also in the south of France.

Now there is a difference here when we’re referring to the flat surface and the region or the area. So it’s that spatial difference.

On the south coast or in the south of France. 

It’s a little hard to get your head around, right? But France is a space that has edges. It’s enclosed so we use “in”.

  • I’ll see you at Melanie’s house.

So that’s the place right?

  • But I’ll meet you in the kitchen.

It’s an enclosed room or enclosed space.

  • I’ll meet you at the corner of Beach Street and Park Road.
  • I saw it in the corner of the room. 

So that’s an enclosed space, right?

How about this one?

Write it on the paper in your notebook, at the top of the page or in the corner.

We say I’m in the car and I’m on the bus or the train.

So there are also times when you can use two different prepositions and the meaning is actually really similar especially between “at” and “on”.

  • Sarah’s still in school.
  • Sarah is still at school.

Now these sentences mean almost exactly the same thing.

“In” school suggests that Sarah is inside the school buildings. She’s a student, she’s learning there.

“At” suggests that she’s at the location of the school but she could be inside a building or outside and she’s not necessarily a student either. She could be a parent visiting the school, for example.

  • I think they’re at the beach 
  • I think they’re on the beach.

“At the beach” is the place. “On the beach” means the sand.

But you can’t use “in”. If you say “in” you need to use the water.

  • You can be in the water.
  • She’s in the sea.
  • She’s in the lake.
  • She’s in the water.


One more two-lettered preposition to add to this lesson about place is “by”.

  • I’m waiting by the car.
  • Put your bag by the door and sit down.

Here, “by” is used to mean next to something or beside or near. These are all prepositions that give us detail about the location of something.

  • They live near the school.
  • They live next to the school.
  • They live by the school.

So there are definitely a few confusing things about prepositions, right?

To successfully learn to use prepositions really well, learn them with the words around them. Don’t try and learn them on their own. The general rules that we talked about during this lesson, will help you to make better choices – most of the time!

Well I hope this lesson has helped to make a few things clearer for you. If you’ve got any questions at all, just pop them in the comments under this video.

If you love this channel and you enjoy my lessons, then please make sure that you subscribe to my channel right here or here. And check out some of the other lessons that I’ve made in these playlists, right here.

See you next week and thanks for watching mmmEnglish. Bye for now!

Links mentioned in the video

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