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Location Prepositions

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.

Preposition Locations
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 In On
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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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.)

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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.

Examples:

  • 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

Location Preposition Exercises

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