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Prepositions of Time

The most common prepositions used when talking about time are: at, on and in.

1. ( At ) We use at when we talk about a specific time:

Example: a) at 8 o'clock b) at dinner time c) at noon
Fred usually goes to school at 7:30.

The restaurant closes at midnight.

There are a few other expressions that we also use at:

  • at Christmas / at Easter (public holiday periods) - We get presents at Christmas.
  • at night - She works at night.
  • at the moment / at present - The doctor is busy at the moment.
  • at the same time - How can you read and listen to music at the same time?
  • at the age of ... - She died at the age of 95 years old.
  • at the beginning of ... - I'm going to Hong Kong at the beginning of June.
  • at the end of ... - There was a lot of confused people at the end of the meeting.

2. ( On ) We use on with specific dates and days.

Example: a) on October 13th b) on Monday(s) c) on my birthday

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Prepositions of Direction ("to")

The most common prepositions used when expressing movement toward something are -To, On (to), In (to). To, into, and onto relate to the prepositions of location at, in, and on.

1. The basic preposition of a direction is "to."

To: indicates direction toward a goal (an action or place).

  • When the goal is something physical, such as a place, "to" means movement to the direction of the place.    Example: Vivian walked to the bank.
  • When the goal is not a place, an action, "to" marks a verb; it is attached as an infinitive and expresses purpose.      Example: Vivian walked to the bank to get some money.

2. The other two prepositions of direction are compounds formed by adding "to" to the corresponding prepositions of location.

The preposition of location determines the meaning of the preposition of direction.

  • When we add ON + TO we get onto: this shows movement toward a surface.
    Example: He fell onto the floor.
  • When we add IN + TO we get into: this shows movement toward the interior of something.
    Example: He fell into the swimming pool.

("To" is part of the directional preposition meaning toward.)

To make it clearer how these pairs are different, the compound preposition shows the completion of an action, while the simple preposition indicates the position of the subject as a result of that action. 

Completion of an Action Position of Subject
The glass fell on(to) the floor. The glass is on the floor.
The dog jumped in(to) the river.  The dog is in the river.


3."To" can also be used with several kinds of verbs.

The basic structure is: verb + to + infinitive

Verbs in this group show a willingness, desire, intention, or obligation.

  • willingness: be willing, consent, refuse
    example: I refuse to clean the bathroom anymore.
  • desire: desire, want, wish, like, ask, request, prefer
    example:   I'd like to ask her out on a date.
  • intention: intend, plan, prepare 
    example :  I plan to go to Canada for the summer.
  • obligation: be obligated, have, need
    example:   They have to buy a new car.

4. In many other situations "to" is used as an common preposition.

  • verbs of communication: listen to, speak to (but not tell), appeal to, relate to
  • verbs of movement: go to, move to, walk to, run to, jog to, drive to, ride to, swim to, fly to, travel to, transfer to, travel to

With the exception of "transfer", all the above verbs can use "toward" as well as "to". But, the difference is that "to" indicates movement toward a certain destination, while "toward" suggests movement in a general direction, without necessarily arriving at a destination.


Drive toward Taipei, and then turn west.  
(Drive in the direction of Taipei; then turn west before arriving there.)

Drive to Taipei.
(You actually want to arrive in Taipei)

Uses of "onto"

1. "Onto" can generally be replaced by "on" with verbs of motion.


The book fell on(to) the floor.  
Peter climbed on(to) the back of the horse.

2. Some verbs of motion express the idea that the subject causes itself or some physical object to be situated in a certain place 

Some of these verbs take only "on". Others take both on and onto.

Karen hung the decoration on the Christmas tree. (not onto the tree)
The air plane landed on the runway. (not onto the runway)
The waiter placed the plate on the table. (not onto the table)
Wayne spilled his milk on the rug. (not onto the rug)
She moved the table on(to) the sundeck.
The bad boy threw his bowl on(to) the floor.

3. There are a some verb-preposition combinations have the meaning "of continuing or resuming an action" when used in the imperative mood.

carry on ('resume what you were doing')

hang on (to the rope)! ('continue to grasp tightly')

drive on ('resume or continue driving')

lead on ('resume or continue leading us')

dream on ('continue dreaming'; a funny way of saying 'that is an unattainable goal')

rock on ('continue playing rock music')

Uses of "into"

1. With verbs of motion, "into" and "in" are interchangeable except when the preposition is the last word in a sentence, or it is used directly before an adverb of time, manner, or frequency.

In this case only in (or inside) can be used.

The patient went into the dentist's office.
The patient went in. (not into)
My brother moved into the their new house yesterday. ('to take up residence in a new home')
My brother moved in yesterday.

2. Verbs expressing stationary position take only "on" or "in".

If a verb allows the object of the preposition to be omitted, the construction may have an idiomatic meaning.

In(to) has two special uses with move.

3. When "move in" is followed by a purpose clause, it has the sense of "approach".

The tiger moved in for the kill.
The soldiers moved in to capture the building.

In these sentences "in" is part of the verb, so "into" cannot be used; We cannot say: "The tiger moved into for the kill."

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