What are Prepositions of Time?
Prepositions of time connect nouns to other parts of the sentence, answering the question “when.” The most common prepositions of time are at, ago, before, by, during, for, from, in, on, since, till/until, and to.
Let’s look at some examples:
- The annual alumni meeting lasted until lunch.
- We’ll be there by 4:30 p.m.
- In the summer, these hills look majestic.
- They told me that they would be done before dinner.
- He’s been living in Chiang Mai since last year.
Prepositions of Time Rules
|Prepositions require objects||Prepositions are parts of prepositional phrases, which include objects. While there are certain sentence structures that break up prepositional phrases, their objects are always identifiable. With prepositions of time, their objects are usually time expressions. Let’s look at some examples:|
– Harry stopped at 4 p.m. to focus on another task.
– We will launch on January 16th.
– Jerry has been in the business for 11 years.
|Placement||From previous examples, we can see that prepositions usually go before their objects. Here are some more examples:|
– There are some eggplants in the greenhouse.
– Someone’s at the door.
– I expect the report to be on my desk first thing tomorrow.
There are exceptions with some sentence structure such as questions or reported speech
|Standard expressions||At, in, and on are the three most common prepositions of time. They cause great confusion as the definitions of prepositions can seem arbitrary. Things such as “a long period of time” can mean differently to each person, for example. Fortunately, at, in, and on have become part of standard expressions when indicating dates, days, hours, and so on. There is still a lot to memorize when it comes to these rules, but in time and with consistent practice, you’ll be able to use them correctly and naturally.|
At is used for the following:
– hours (at 9 p.m.)
– some parts of the day (at night)
– holidays without the word “day” (at Easter)
– the word “time” (at that time)
In is used for the following:
– some part of the day (in the morning)
– centuries (in the 15th century)
– decades (in the 80s)
– years (in 1994)
– months (in February)
– seasons (in autumn)
– periods of time (in the past)_ the word “weeks” (in two weeks)
On is used for the following:
– days (on Saturday)
– days + parts of the day (on Monday afternoon)
– dates (on September 19)
– specific days (on my birthday)
– holidays with the word “day”
Examples of Prepositions of Place
At expresses specific time, some parts of the day or week, and holidays without the word “day” in them. We also use it with the word “time” and “moment.”
- We close at 8 p.m.
- Marie started working at 9 a.m.
- We’ll have a family reunion at Christmas.
- I’m working at the moment.
- What will you do at the weekend?
We use in to refer to the following: centuries, decades, years, months, seasons, and periods of time. We also use it in standard expressions with specific parts of the day and to express lengths of time with the word “week.”
- Dad will be home in three weeks.
- Is your birthday in March?
- We will go on a trip in the summer.
- What was this establishment in the 60s?
- In medieval times, this was a prison.
The preposition on is used for days, time expressions with both the days and parts of the day in them, dates, specific days, and holidays with the word “day.”
- The party is on Sunday evening.
- Do you have a date on Valentine’s Day?
- I don’t think I can make it on Wednesday.
- Roland booked a reservation on their anniversary.
- We’re calling to confirm the meeting on February 25.
4. From… to…
We use “from…to…” to refer to a fixed schedule with both the starting and ending times.
- The play is from 4 to 6 o’clock.
- Benjamin worked for them from 2005 to 2015.
- The seminar will be from Thursday afternoon to Saturday morning.
- We did yoga from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m.
- I’m sure the party will last from dusk to dawn.
Until refers to an event or time that will take place up to a point.
- Carlotta will stay here until Sunday.
- I’ll be based here until next year.
- We won’t start until you put your phone away.
- “Till next time,” said his friend Jake.
- Kelva wouldn’t leave until Rahel told her what was wrong.
The preposition since refers to something that began in the past and continues in the present.
- I haven’t seen Lola since yesterday.
- We’ve been friends since high school.
- The factory has been abandoned since last year.
- Since he arrived, we’ve been blessed.
- Since Jinni left, I realized I can live independently.
We use for to express periods of time.
- We will stay there for four days this time around.
- I haven’t eaten this for a really long time.
- His dad will be stationed in South Korea for 6 months.
- Hala worked as a waitress for five months.
- They’ll dry the shrimp under the sun for two days.
Before refers to points in time preceding an event or another point in time.
- Vinnie already ate before coming here.
- Do we have time to go through the papers before lunch?
- Before the interview, Sachi had a minor accident with her car.
- Hye Kyo wanted to be briefed thoroughly before the meeting.
- We should finish this before night comes.
We use after to refer to a period of time that follows an event or another period of time.
- I’ll vacuum after you mop the floor.
- After we ate, the kids insisted on washing the dishes.
- Gil looked confused after the phone call.
- It rained so everyone went home after the game.
- We should continue this discussion after eating.
During refers to the duration of time that actions or events happened.
- The locals generally don’t talk to each other during meals.
- Rey was sleeping during the concert.
- Can you make sure they’re comfortable during the conference?
- The kid was crying during the intermission.
- During their goodbyes, Wilma handed Ji Eun a gift.
The preposition by refers to periods in which something happens. It’s also used to indicate deadlines or the end of a specific period.
- Please hand in your homework by tomorrow.
- I think Mom will be back by 5 p.m.
- We’ll have it ready by the end of March.
- By the time he arrived, the meal has been prepared.
- Have it delivered by the end of today.
Prepositions of Time Exercises with Answers
Exercise on Prepositions of Time
Choose the right preposition of time from the options given.
1. I’ve been waiting for her _____ 2 o’clock.
2. They will visit _____ August.
3. You can start working _____ Monday afternoon.
4. The campers were lost in the forest _____ one week.
5. They won’t go _____ you release their pay.
1. b: I’ve been waiting for her since 2 o’clock.
2. a: They will visit in August.
3. b: You can start working on Monday afternoon.
4. a: The campers were lost in the forest for one week.
5. b: They won’t go until you release their pay.
Prepositions of Time List
|List of Time Prepositions|
as long as
as soon as
Advice for ESL Students & English Language Learners
|Use Grammar Lists||English grammar tools such as lists and tables can’t take the place of books, but they can be useful as guides. They simplify grammar concepts into models, patterns, and rules, including valuable sample sentences. They are particularly useful for prepositions because of the scope of the subject. A great way to maximize the benefits of this method is to make your own lists, which you can adjust to fit your learning preferences and language needs.|
|Use Audio-Visual Resources||Self-directed instruction is a crucial supplement to traditional English classes. However, you should use the correct tools to study effectively. By integrating your favorite English language films, TV shows, social media channels, music, and podcasts to your learning routine, you’ll get valuable information on how native and non-native English speakers use English in different real-life situations: social, academic, and professional. Using English-language media purposefully will improve your understanding of expression and communication. This will ultimately advance your vocabulary and sentence construction skills.|
|Practical Use||It’s an unfortunate truth that many English language learners live or study in places where English isn’t normally used or spoken. This makes studying English twice as challenging as the only real way to develop fluency is to speak regularly. If you are in the same situation, remember that you have the ability to make an “English environment” for yourself. Organizing a study group with like-minded people is a good place to start. It will provide a learning space to explore English with others. Moreover, you can establish personal relationships with English speakers from other countries of backgrounds, which can be instrumental in discussion and role-play exercises.|
Common Errors Made by English Learners
|Using at, in, and of expressions that don’t need them.||There are some time expressions that don’t need the prepositions at, in, and of, but many English learners use them anyway. Take note of the following list and remember that we don’t use at, in, and of for these words and phrases:|
– today, tomorrow, yesterday
– last night, last week, last year, etc.
– this morning, this month, this week, etc.
– next week, next month, next year, etc.
– every day, every night, every year, etc.
|“I have been studying architecture for three years between 2015 to 2018.”||Because of verb tenses, most students automatically use the present perfect continuous every time they use the word “for” over a period of time. This isn’t always the case. In the sentence, it’s clear that the person no longer studies architecture, which they did from 2015 to 2018. Below is the correct sentence:|
– I studied architecture for three years between 2015 to 2018.
|Since and from||Incorrect: “I’ve been waiting from 9 a.m.”|
Correct: I’ve been waiting since 9 a.m.” Remember that since means from a point in time in the past until now. This is the reason we can only use since with perfect tenses, just like the sentence in our examples using “I’ve been.”
Learning Strategies and Best Practices with Prepositions of Time
Prepositions are some of the most commonly used words in English. Because of their quantity and distinctions in meaning, it’s quite a huge challenge to be proficient at using them. Prepositions are rarely studied individually in traditional classroom settings. It’s tedious and time-consuming. Most of the time, English learners learn prepositions through exposure and experience. They hear phrases spoken a certain way and integrate them into their own vocabulary. The following are some best practices to observe when studying and using prepositions of place:
- Instead of studying large concepts as a whole, try learning English in portions of the language. In most cases, you don’t need to know the technical rules of English grammar, and prepositions are one of the most complex and confusing things you will ever study. Listen to native speakers and take note of how they use prepositions. Then try using them in your own speech or writing you have an opportunity. Remember that there are standard expressions in English that have always been said that way without getting into the reasons. Why do we say “I’m on the bus” when the bus is an enclosed space? Instead of asking why you should ask “How do I say this correctly?”
- There are a lot of prepositions, perhaps not the number of words but definitely the number of meanings. In addition, each one can be used with any noun, making endless configurations possible. If you find yourself uncertain about the right prepositions to use, use a dictionary or a grammar list.
- You don’t need to use prepositions. If you’re having difficulty picking the correct preposition, you can practice your paraphrasing skills and reconstruct your sentence in a way that prepositions are not involved or necessary.
- Read, practice, talk. The more vocabulary you have acquired, the more accurate you’ll become in choosing not only the right prepositions but also the proper ways of using them.
Prepositions of Time Frequently Asked Questions
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