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Unit 45 Place * at, in, on

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Main points

* You use `at’ to talk about a place as a point.

* You use `in’ to talk about a place as an area.

* You use `on’ to talk about a place as a surface.

1 You use `at’ when you are thinking of a place as a point in space.
She waited at the bus stop for over twenty minutes.
`Where were you last night?’ – `At Mick’s house.’

2 You also use `at’ with words such as `back’, `bottom’, `end’, `front’, and `top’ to talk about the different parts of a place.
Mrs Castle was waiting at the bottom of the stairs.
They escaped by a window at the back of the house.
I saw a taxi at the end of the street.

You use `at’ with public places and institutions. Note that you also say `at home’ and `at work’.
I have to be at the station by ten o’clock.
We landed at a small airport.
A friend of mine is at Training College.
She wanted to stay at home.

You say `at the corner’ or `on the corner’ when you are talking about streets.
The car was parked at the corner of the street.
There’s a telephone box on the corner.

You say `in the corner’ when you are talking about a room.
She put the chair in the corner of the room.

3 You use `in’ when you are talking about a place as an area. You use `in’ with:

* a country or geographical region
When I was in Spain, it was terribly cold.
A thousand homes in the east of Scotland suffered power cuts.

* a city, town, or village
I’ve been teaching at a college in London.

* a building when you are talking about people or things inside it
They were sitting having dinner in the restaurant.

You also use `in’ with containers of any kind when talking about things inside them.
She kept the cards in a little box.

4 Compare the use of `at’ and `in’ in these examples.
I had a hard day at the office. (`at’ emphasizes the office as a public place or institution)
I left my coat behind in the office. (`in’ emphasizes the office as a building)
There’s a good film at the cinema. (`at’ emphasizes the cinema as a public place)
It was very cold in the cinema. (`in’ emphasizes the cinema as a building.)

5 When talking about addresses, you use `at’ when you give the house number, and `in’ when you just give the name of the street.
They used to live at 5, Weston Road.
She got a job in Oxford Street.

Note that American English uses `on’: `He lived on Penn Street.’

You use `at’ when you are talking about someone’s house.
I’ll see you at Fred’s house.

6 You use `on’ when you are talking about a place as a surface. You can also use `on top of’.
I sat down on the sofa.
She put her keys on top of the television.

You also use `on’ when you are thinking of a place as a point on a line, such as a road, a railway line, a river, or a coastline.
Scrabster is on the north coast.
Oxford is on the A34 between Birmingham and London.
See Unit 40 for information on `at’, `in’, and `on’ in adverbials of time.

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