Rules of Preposition
Most preposition usage is essentially conventional, even quirkish at times, and many preposition choices actually have no inherent or discernible logic of their own. For instance, it’s not easy to discern any logical difference between “in,” “on,” and “at” as prepositions of place and location, and this is why so many nonnative English speakers take a long time to master their proper usage. Achieving this mastery, in fact, requires committing to memory the specific prepositions needed according to established usage, and it’s a task that becomes even more tedious and difficult in the case of the prepositional phrases and prepositional idioms.
The common run of prepositions usually establishes a space or time relationship between ideas within a phrase, clause, or sentence, and they can be divided into five groups: 1. The prepositions of place and location: “in,” “at,” and “on” 2. The prepositions of motion: “to,” “toward,” “in,” and “into” 3. The prepositions of movement and direction: “to,” “onto,” and “into” 4. The prepositions for specific points of time: “on,” “at,” “in,” and “after” 5. The prepositions for periods or extended time: “since,” “for,” “by,” “from…to,” “from…until,” “before,” “during,” “within,” “between,” and “beyond. ”
The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating place and location. The general rule is to use “in” for an enclosed space, “at” for a point, and “on” for a surface. Here are some specific guidelines for their use in American English: Use “in” for spaces: “They always meet in a secret room [in a suburban hotel, in a parking lot, in a farm, in a ricefield]. ” Use “in” for names of specific land areas: “She lives in a quiet town [in Tagaytay, in Cavite, in Southern Tagalog, in the island of Palawan, in the Philippines, in Southeast Asia].
Use “in” for bodies of water: “That kind of fish thrives in freshwater [in the river, in the lake, in streams, in the sea]. ” Use “in” for lines: “The registrants are in a row [in a line, in a queue]. ” Use “at” to indicate points: “You’ll find us at the entrance [at the taxi stand, at the supermarket, at the intersection]. ” Use “at” for specific addresses, as in “She lives at 40 Lilac St. ” Use “on” for names of streets, roads, avenues, and boulevards: “Her apartment is on San Pablo Street [on Ortigas Avenue, on Santolan Road, on Roxas Boulevard]. ”
Use “on” for surfaces: “There’s a large stain on the floor [on the wall, on the ceiling, on the roof]. ” The prepositions “in,” “at,” and “on” for indicating location. Use “in” in these cases: “The children are in the kitchen [in the garden, in the car, in the library, in the class, in school]. (The article “the” is mandatory except for the fourth and last example. ) Use “at” in these particular cases: “She was at home [at the library, at the office, at school, at work] when we arrived. ” Use “on” in these particular cases: “They are on the plane [on the train, on the boat.
We must keep in mind, however, that “to” is used to convey the idea of movement toward a specific destination, while “toward” is used to convey movement in a general direction that may not reach a specific destination: “Please take me to the bus station. ” (The speaker obligates the listener to specifically take him to a particular place. ) “The speedboat headed toward the harbor. ” (The speaker indicates only a movement in a general direction. ) We can actually interchange “into” and “in” more or less freely when used with verbs of motion. There are exceptions, though.