The prepositions of location at, in, on and aboard are a bit more complicated than basic position prepositions. Location prepositions are associated with specific types of locations, which must be memorized.
Sometimes, the location prepositions are logical. For example, in a house makes sense because you are physically standing inside the house. Other location prepositions are less logical. For example, on a bus means inside the bus rather than standing on top of the bus. Here is a list of location prepositions and the types of locations they are associated with. Scroll down for example sentences, usage notes, and location preposition exercises.
|at||specific locations, addresses, companies, stores, events, parties, desks, counters|
|in||enclosed spaces, buildings, organizations, regions, water, deserts, mountain ranges, forests, cities, countries, continents, the sky, space, cars, groups of people, little boats|
|on||surfaces, roads, corners, shores, single mountains, islands, planets, public transportation, bikes, big boats, stairs, balconies, walkways|
|aboard||boats, planes, trains|
To help you understand the types of locations listed above, here are some real-life examples of at, in and on to get you started. There is a discussion of aboard further down the page.
|at work||in class||on the floor|
|at home||in college||on the ground|
|at the bank||in the hospital||on the freeway|
|at the beach||in my car||on the lawn|
|at 123 Main Street||in a taxi||on the subway|
|at IKEA||in a canoe||on the Titanic|
|at the party||in the sky||on the plane|
|at the bus stop||in the universe||on Mount Everest|
|at the ticket counter||in the army||on the stairs|
|at my desk||in the Rocky Mountains||on Mars|
|at the dinner table||in the Pacific||on the shore|
|at the exit||in the crowd||on the sidewalk|
|at the supermarket||in the theater||on the balcony|
|at the wedding||in China||on Catalina Island|
|at the post office||in Africa||on his motorcycle|
At School vs. In School
It's important to remember that each preposition expresses an idea. For example, at expresses the idea of being at a specific location, whereas in expresses the idea of being in an institution. For this reason, at school and in school have two very difference meanings. Take a look at the examples below to understand the difference.
- Tom wasn't at home; he was at school. at that location
- Fred doesn't have a job yet because he is still in school. enrolled in the institution of school
On a Street vs. In the Street
Again, different prepositions have different meanings. On is generally used for street locations (on Main Street), whereas in is used to talk about standing in the middle of the street.
- My house was on Delaney Street. at that location
- The car almost hit him because he was in the street. standing in the middle of the street
At the Beach vs. On the Beach
As described above, you must remember the meanings of the prepositions. At the beach is referring to the location. On the beach suggests the idea of being on the shore (standing on the sand.)
- Sarah wasn't at school; she was at the beach. at that location
- Lisa wasn't in the ocean when she saw the shark. Luckily, she was on the beach. on the sand
In Water vs. On Water
Once again, the difference depends on the meaning of the prepositions. When you are in water, you are swimming in the water. However, when you are on water, you are floating on the surface of the water in a boat OR you are standing on the shore of that body of water. This applies to lakes, rivers, oceans and other bodies of water.
- We were in the sea all day. swimming
- We were on the sea all day. in a boat
- I have a beautiful house on the sea. on the shore
In a Boat vs. On a Boat vs. Aboard a Boat
The word boat is a little more complicated. When English speakers are in small boats, they feel that they are inside something like a car, so they use the preposition in. On large boats or ships, it feels more like public transportation and they prefer to use the word on rather than in.
The preposition aboard is usually used in more formal language with large passenger vehicles such as planes, trains and ships and is often used to emphasize the moment you first step onto the vehicle. It is most commonly heard in the expression welcome aboard.
- Jane was in a rowboat when she saw the whale. small boat
- Natalie was on a cruise ship when she saw the whale. big boat
- When everyone was aboard the ship, we departed. more formal