Northcentral University Writing Center
Selecting Prepositions, Part 2

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Writing Center

Selecting Prepositions: Part 2

Prepositions: Using the Appropriate Preposition


Each preposition serves a specific purpose to initiate the phrase that follows. Understanding these uses will prepare the writer to create maximum clarity for the reader.


IN                     Use in with spaces

                                    In a garden

                                    In a room

                        Use in with bodies of water

                                    In the sea

                                    In a river

                        Use in with lines

                                    In a row

                                    In a queue

                        Use in with static (non-movement) verbs & cities, countries, states, etc

                                    Stay in the US

                                    Work in New York

                        Use in for months, years, and periods of time

                                    In January

                                    In 1998

                        Use in for a period of time in the future

                                    In a few weeks

                                    In a few hours


AT                    Use at with places

                                    At the bus-stop

                                    At the door

                        Use at with places on the page

                                    At the top

                                    At the bottom

                        Use at with groups of people

                                    At the back of the class

                                    At the front of class

                        Use at with static (non-movement) verbs and places

                                    At the cinema

                                    At work

                        Use at with precise time

                                    At 10:30

                                    At two pm


ON                   Use on with surfaces

                                    On the table

                                    On the desk

                        Use on with small islands

                                    On Maui

                                    On Davis Island

                        Use on with directions

                                    On the left

                                    One the right

                        Use on with days of the week

                                    On Monday

                                    On Tuesday

                        Use on with specific calendar days

                                    On Halloween

                                    On October 29th



TO                    Use to with verbs of movement such as go, come, drive, etc.

                                    Go to work

                                    Drive to Las Vegas


FOR                 Use for with a period of time to express the duration

                                    For three weeks

                                    For many months


WHILE              Use while plus a verb form

                                    While I was watching TV

                                    While I lived in New York


DURING            Use during with a noun to express when something happens

                                    During class

                                    During my vacation


Important Notes:           We say “in the corner of a room,” but “at the corner of a street.”

                                    We say “in the front” and “at the back” of buildings.

                                    We say “on the front” and “on the back” of a piece of paper.


Prepositional Phrase Reference








At first

By accident

For now

From now on

Under age

Without fail

At least

By far

For instance

From then on

Under control

Without notice

At most

By all means

For example

From bad to worse

Under the impression

Without exception

At times

By heart

For sale

From my point of view

Under guarantee

Without someone’s consent

At any rate

By chance

For a while

From what I understand

Under the influence of

Without success

At last

By and by

For the moment

From personal experience

Under obligation

Without warning.

At the latest

By the way

For ages


Under suspicion


At once

By the time

For a change


Under his thumb


At short notice

By no means

For better or worse


Under discussion


At an advantage

By name



Under consideration


At a disadvantage

By sight





At risk

By now





At a profit

By then





At a loss








For information on making the right choice when choosing a preposition, see Selecting Prepositions, Part 1 located in the Revising the Draft for Style section of the NCU Writing Center. Additionally, writers are also encouraged to visit the Writing Centers at Colorado, Purdue, and Chapel Hill.