Time Prepositions

by Malcolm Pemberton

The Basic Rule is:

 At a time – On a day – In a less precise period


The bus is due at ten past two.

I start work at eight o’clock.

I get double time for working on Sundays.

Sheila is setting off for India on Friday.

I was born on a Friday.

We’ll have our next meeting in week five.

George wears long underwear in the winter.

I was born in the 1950’s, actually in 1953.

Exceptions (of course):

Events, such as Christmas, New Year, Easter, Midsummer (and weekends)

take ‘at’, if we are talking about the festival period, not the day.

We always go to my parents at Christmas.

The Scots celebrate much more at New Year.

Children receive presents at Easter in England.

In England, only the Druids celebrate at Midsummer.

I like to completely forget about work at the weekend.


In England, Santa comes on Christmas Day.

The Druids hold their festival on Midsummer Night.

Most Europeans are on holiday on both Good Friday and Easter Monday.

The Finns try not to sleep at all on Midsummer night.

All western countries celebrate on New Year’s Eve.

The Seasons:

(‘The’ is optional)

In (the) winter the Baltic Sea freezes over.

The snow begins to melt in (the) spring.

In (the) summer, the Finns are very busy relaxing.

In (the) autumn, the leaves fall off the trees, just before the snow returns.

In versus During:

‘In’ can usually (but not always) be replaced by ‘during’.

During the winter, the Baltic Sea freezes over.

Most Finns go to their summer cottages during the summer.

At some time during the day I must find time for lunch.


The bus will come in five minutes. (Here, ‘in’ means ‘after’.)

The bus will come within five minutes. (Sometime between now and in five minutes.)

Other Examples:

I’m not so bright in the mornings.

I like to relax in the evenings

In the afternoons, I like to take a walk after lunch.

I was woken up in the night by the sound of police sirens.


At night I like to sleep.

‘In the beginning’ and ‘in the end’:

‘In the beginning’ and ‘in the end’ are about cause and effect, not time:

In the beginning the course seemed easy, but it got harder and in the end I gave up.

(Because it was so hard.)

In the beginning we thought of going to Miami, but it was so expensive that in the end we went to Crete.

(Because of the expense.)

We couldn’t decide where to go, and in the end we stayed at home.

(Because we couldn’t decide.)

Our car gave us a lot of problems, so in the end we sold it.

(Because of the problems.)

At the beginning and at the end:

‘At the beginning’ and ‘at the end’ are about time, but not often used together:

At the beginning of March the temperatures were well below zero, but by the end it was much warmer.

I put in my pay claim at the beginning of the month, but I don’t get paid till the end.

At the beginning of the year we started a new financial period.

At the end of the show the band played an encore.

I get paid at the end of the month.

I fill in a tax declaration at the end of the year.

On Time v. In Time:

These are quite different:

On time = at the agreed, expected or arranged time.

In time = not late – with time to spare before something has gone.

On time = at the agreed time:

The 09:50 train arrived on time. (It arrived at 09:50.)

The trainer arrived on time for the class. (At the arranged time.)

The film started on time. (At the advertised time.)

I always like to arrive on time(At the agreed time.)

In time = early enough:

I arrived in time for the 09:50 train. (Early enough to catch it.)

The trainer arrived in time for the class. (Early enough to do his job.)

I arrived at the cinema in time for the beginning of the movie.

I always like to arrive in plenty of time(With spare time to visit the bathroom or have a coffee.)

And their Opposites?

The opposite of on time is late.

The opposite of in time is too late.

The trainer arrived late for the class, but was still able to give the lesson.

I arrived at the station in time to watch the train leave, but too late to be sitting on it.

‘Just in time’ and ‘almost too late’:

Just in time means arriving with little or no time to spare.

The movie was to start at 19:00. I arrived at the cinema at 18:57. My friend was waiting.

He looked annoyed. ”I’m just in time!” I said. He said, ”You were almost too late!”

Just in Time Delivery?

Just in Time Delivery sounds a little risky!

Perhaps ”Just on Time Delivery” sounds a little more certain and secure.

Almost too late” doesn’t sound like a very good advert.

‘In future’ versus ‘in the future’:

‘In future’ = from this point on.

‘In the future’ = at some point later on.

The fire was caused by a cigarette butt – in future, there will be no smoking here.

We now have an automatic invoicing system – in future, there will be no need to enter the details manually.

Maybe, one day in the future, we will have flying cars.

In the future, there may be holiday camps on Mars.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

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