“In” and “On” with Time Expressions

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Prepositional idioms are tricky in any language. Here are some tips for using in and on with expressions of time.

For months, years and long periods like centuries, use in.

For days and dates, use on.

For precise times use at.
Meet me at 8 p.m.
The children played at recess.

Some common expressions vary the pattern:

in the morning, but on Monday morning
in the mornings, but on Wednesday mornings
in the afternoon but on Sunday afternoon

NOTE: Although we say in the morning, in the afternoon and in the evening, we say at night. Ex. Milk is delivered in the morning. The stars come out at night. BUT We heard a noise in the night.

Some time expressions do not require a preposition:
I went to Sicily last May.
He’s giving a speech next Friday.
My children visit every Thanksgiving.
What are you doing this afternoon?

Talking about the weekend admits of variation:

Do you work weekends?
Do you work on the weekend?
(American usage)
Do you work at the weekend? (British usage)

BBC Learning English on, in and at with time expressions.

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13 thoughts on ““In” and “On” with Time Expressions”

  1. It’s a real can of worms. Here in Britain, at least, commonly heard dialectal variations include ‘of’ or ‘-s’, as in ‘I go there of a Monday’,’ I go there Mondays’, ‘I see him there of a night’, or ‘I see him there nights’.

  2. Thank you very much for this post. Though this is a helpful post for those who are in a bloody confusion with “on” and “in”, along with me, I think I will still be confused sometimes.

  3. I agree, definitely a can of worms.

    While writing yesterday’s blog post I found myself questioning whether it should be “in a journey” or “on a journey.”

    Of course, it’s “on,” but I wavered! I’m easily influenced by seeing different usages (esp between British and US English) and repeated misspellings.

    Thanks for another great post.

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  4. So . .

    If I think of a timeline, then I would use *in* to specify a broad range of times.

    *On* would identify a well understood interval, but imply a specific event or time within that interval. On Monday I will set out the trash, as usual. While the phrase might include the entire day of Monday, what is meant is a specific act, pretty well understood to occur at or before a fixed time. Say, by 7:45 am when I leave for work, or 8:06 or whenever the trash truck arrives. The specific time within, in, the interval is implied or understood.

    *At* identifies a referenced point of time within the interval.

    I imagine than in and on might have different meanings, within the realm of small intervals. Say, for someone reviewing tests of a new microprocessor (Do they still say “micro-“?) would refer to a vasty large series of events that took place within the minute, 8:06 am. Or is it a.m.?


  5. Could anyone please correct me:
    “In the days left of the month, I usually go visit my family” Is it in here?
    Thank you in advance.

  6. Rondy,

    I find the two phrases of your example fit together clumsily. Pardon me, please, while I think through my thought.

    “In the remaining days of the month” implies a fixed number of days. That is, today, whenever the statement was first made, through the last day of the month. I would take a trip “in” that time span, on one of the days remaining in this month.

    And I would have used “this month”, too. The reason is that “remaining” implies that the number of days in the group you mention – the remaining day of the month – is fixed, is known, is certain, as of the time the statement is made. This means that you are referring to this month, the current month, even though you don’t state that explicitly. I don’t feel terribly strongly about this point – “this month” or “the month” would be understood, but I prefer “this month”.

    “I usually go visit my family” is a general point of information. “Usually” implies that the action, visiting my family, is repeated according to some pattern. Maybe weekly, maybe monthly, maybe daily – but at some customary interval.

    Stating a specific time interval, the remaining days in this month, seems at odds with the repeating action of visiting my family.

    The customary, or usual, part of action might be to visit only in the last few days of each month. “In the remaining days of the month” implies that there are fewer days remaining than have already passed in this month. But there is no sense that the time part of the sentence is repeated for each visit, or contains repeated visits.

    The numbers of actions and time intervals when they happen don’t agree.

    The “In the remaining days of the month” implies that the action of the sentence, the visit, occurs exactly once during the time from now to the end of this month. The ‘usually’ qualifier on the action, though, implies repetition, multiple visits.

    “I usually visit my family in the last part of the month.”

    There. My soul is content. (I read that somewhere, and like the phrase.)

  7. Maeve, thank you so much for the rephrasing.
    Brad, well, I was confused at first, reading your comment, but it did make sense thinking about it. Thank you so much.

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