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How to use prepositions of time in English

Prepositions can be a recurring nightmare for English language learners; there are about 150 prepositions in the English language and they are more often used than other individual words.

The tricky thing about applying them correctly is that much of our existing knowledge of prepositions relies on instinct and not on rules. Luckily, when it comes to prepositions of time, we can refer to the following set of rules to give us some guidance and, eventually, after sufficient practice, allow our instinct to take over the job.

Prepositions of time: at, on, in, by, since, for

We use ‘at’ for specific times:
• I’ll see you at 3 o’clock.
• I often take a break at lunchtime.
• It’s always busy at the end of the fiscal year.

We use ‘on’ for specific days:
• Are you available on Wednesday?
• My birthday is on the 13th of March.
• Where will you be on New Year’s Eve?

We use ‘in’ for periods of time, including weeks, months, years, and seasons:
• I haven’t seen her in weeks! Luckily, we’ve got a coffee date in the morning.
• We’ll be moving house in two months and hope to grow our family in the coming years.
• Hotels are often more expensive in the summer. They were much cheaper in 2001!

We use ‘by’ to express that something happens before the time expressed:
• We’d like to have this ready by Friday.
• Could you please confirm your attendance by the 31st of June?
• The director will take a decision by the end of the week.

We use ‘since’ to express the length of time with a specific starting point in the past:
• We’ve lived in London since 2004.
• We haven’t seen each other since high school.
• I’ve had this position since March and have been enjoying the work so far.

We use ‘for’ to express the length of time:
• We’ve known each other for 25 years.
• They’ve been working on these changes for a long time.
• She’s lived in New York for three years and will be moving abroad next month.

Test yourself

If you think you’ve got the hang of it, test your knowledge below:

  1. We’ve had some troubles ____ the past.
  2.  ____ the early 1990’s, the economy was fairly strong.
  3.  Let’s get started ____ 9 a.m.
  4.  I’d like to discuss this ____ Monday.
  5.  Do you have some time to chat or did I catch you ___ a bad time?
  6.  ___ the future, we expect that most of the workforce will work remotely.
  7.  We faced many challenges as a company ___ 2013.
  8.  Have you got the day off ____ Labour Day?
  9. She’s accomplished a lot for someone ___ her early 30’s.
  10. I was up very late last night and finally fell asleep ___ midnight.
  11.  Could you let me know ____ Friday at the latest?
  12.  We’ve been looking to buy a home ___ January but the market is tough right now.
  13.  I’ve been trying to reach you ___ weeks! Where have you been?

Scroll down for the right answers.








  1. in
  2. in
  3. at
  4. on
  5. at
  6. in
  7. in
  8. on
  9. in
  10. at
  11. by
  12. since
  13. for


Alma Bonger
Alma Bonger
Alma is an English language trainer and writer from Canada. She is passionate about education, exploring new cultures, and creative collaboration.

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