All Ears English Podcast - 1921: Pesky Prepositions of Place in English Grammar: In, On, or At

This is an All Ears English podcast, episode 1921.

Pesky prepositions of place in English grammar,

in, on, or at.

Welcome to the All Ears English podcast,

downloaded more than 200 million times.

Are you feeling stuck with your English?

We’ll show you how to become fearless and fluent

by focusing on connection, not perfection

with your American host, Aubrey Carter, the IELTS whiz,

and Lindsey McMahon, the English adventurer,

coming to you from Arizona and Colorado, USA.

To get real-time transcripts right on your phone

and create your personalized vocabulary list,

try the All Ears English app for iOS and Android.

Start your seven-day free trial

at forward slash app.

Pesky prepositions are everywhere in English.

Today, get a secret hack on whether to use in or on

when it comes to transportation.

Plus, get full clarity on the prepositions

in, on, and at for place.

At Fred Meyer, no matter where you order free pickup,

you get the same great deals as you’d get in-store.

So you can save when you order during band practice

or at the dog park or wherever.

Start your cart with the Fred Meyer app

and save from wherever today.

Fred Meyer, fresh for everyone.

$35 order minimum, restrictions may apply.

Subject to availability.

Save more on natural and organic items.

Just clip your digital coupons on our app

and use them up to five times

in one transaction with your card.

Fred Meyer, fresh for everyone.

Hey, Lindsay, do you have a lot on your plate today?

Ah, I don’t have a lot of my plate today,

but in general, in, you know, these days, this year,

I have a lot of my plate, you know,

helping my aunt with all of her things

and working at All Ears English

and doing all sorts of good stuff, but it’s all good stuff.

So what about you?

Yes, same.

Guys, this is a great idiom to ask someone

if they’re busy, if they have a lot going on,

to say, do you have a lot on your plate?

Imagine like a dinner plate, like if you have a lot to eat,

but we use it idiomatically to say,

do you have a lot going on?

Are you very busy?

Say, do you have a lot on your plate?

Or what do you have on your plate today?

Means, what do you have to do?

Exactly, we got a question

from one of our awesome listeners, Arlene, a new listener.

I love to see new listeners, Aubrey.

Yes, this is a great question.

I’ll go ahead and read it.

I know this is a question that many of you listeners have,

so I’m excited about this.

She says, I originally came from the Philippines.

I’ve been in the US for more than 15 years,

but I’m still having an issue on when to use on,

in, at, onto, and into.

Can you please give examples?

Thank you so much.

Looking forward to listening to your podcast.

I’ve received, I feel like this question

more than any other question from listeners like Arlene

who have lived in the United States or in England

for years and years and years,

and prepositions are still tricky.

Interesting, yeah, it’s like the pesky little prepositions,

right, I think we learned the word pesky a few months ago.

They keep coming up and we can’t quite feel fluent

unless we get these right, right, Aubrey?

Yes, exactly, and we really recently talked about time

for these prepositions in episode 1841, if you missed it.

It was called in, on, or at,

don’t get stumped by prepositions of time,

but these same prepositions are pesky and tricky for place

and it works very differently.

So we’re doing this episode and focusing on on, in, and at

for location, for places.

Right, and we know that Arlene also wanted to know

about onto and into.

So guys, we’re gonna come back in another episode, right,

Aubrey, to onto and into, right?

Yes, right, there’s so much to go into,

so make sure you follow, guys,

so that you don’t miss that episode.

Yes. We’ll cover that

in an upcoming episode very soon.

All right, let’s get into it then for today,

starting with what?

Yeah, so we’ll start with at,

and this is for places, locations,

when we’re talking about a specific point,

an exact position, when you’re sharing your location

or the location of an object.

So for example, give us some sentences, Lindsay.

All right, here we go.

His chair is at his desk, right?

Go ahead and write these down, guys,

to make sure you don’t miss them.

Here’s the second one.

I’m waiting at the hotel entrance, or I’m at the gym.

Yes, and there are a lot of very common mistakes.

One I hear a lot is someone will say,

I arrived to the airport.

I just arrived to the airport,

but a native English speaker would say,

I arrived at the airport

because you’re sharing your location.

I’m here now, I arrived at the airport.

Yeah, I think our listeners

might be getting in trouble there

if they’re translating from their native language,

because I think especially languages like Spanish,

maybe French, maybe it is a translation mistake, right?

Well, and it’s tricky too,

because we do say in English, arrive to sometimes,

like that you arrived to, you know,

depending on what it is, but when it’s a location,

when it’s a place, arrive at.

But there’s so many more, right?

You might hear someone say, go out in the night,

when you would say, go out at night,

and that’s time, remember to check out 1841,

but there are so many mistakes.

So it’s really vital that you have a good idea

of when we use each one.

And as you’re listening to English,

pay attention to the prepositions.

This makes me think we should build a whole course

on prepositions, Aubrey, you know?

It’s kind of, they’re kind of the glue.

They’re the glue that go between all of our words.

And we know, guys, it is kind of a glaring mistake

when you mess them up.

They’re such little words, but they are kind of glaring.

And again, it’s about connection,

but these are the little things we want to just clean up.

Just do a little cleaning here, right?

As to push yourself to that higher, more native level.

Exactly, these are very obvious to native English speakers.

I know I make these same mistakes in French and Spanish.

Sometimes I’m finding myself translating directly.

It’s difficult in every language, I think, prepositions.

Ooh, we’re going to look into that.

Maybe we build a course next year on prepositions.

I think our listeners would love that.

I just made a note.

I wrote it down.

All right, but for now, we have these episodes.

So where do we go next?

Okay, so next is in,

and this is all about an enclosed, defined space, right?

It doesn’t have to be totally enclosed,

like a swimming pool, right?

That’s an enclosed place,

even though there’s no roof, right?

We also use it for cities, countries, large areas.

Okay, so a large area, something is in something else,


So for example, the ball is in the pool,

or I am in the U.S.

The U.S. is huge, right?

So I am in the U.S.

Yeah, so a common mistake is to say,

like, the bike is on the street,

but a road is still considered an enclosed space, right?

So I would say the bike is in the street.

The kids are in the street.

Get them out of the street.

Yeah, okay, okay, I like it.

And then what about,

is there any difference regionally speaking?

Yeah, this is fascinating, right?

So if you guys have been to New York or New Jersey,

usually for a city, we’d say in New York City

and on an island,

but we say in Rhode Island, in Hawaii,

and Long Island is an exception.

If you’ve been to New York,

you may have heard someone say on Long Island.

I live on Long Island.

This is like a regional dialect issue

because in English, usually standard accepted grammar

is in any city.

Long Islanders will disagree with you

till they are red in the face that it’s on Long Island.

That is so interesting.

I’ve never thought about that before,

but that’s a weird outlier.

And they also say it with that great Long Island accent,

which I’m not even gonna do an impression,

but it’s great, guys.

Long Island has its own accent,

which is actually separate

from other parts of New York City,

other parts of Brooklyn.

It’s different, fascinating.

We’ll go into that another day.

I just watched an episode of Married at First Sight,

and there was a guy on there from Long Island,

and he had the,

and it was funny because there was a girl

on the show from Jersey,

and she couldn’t stand his Long Island accent.

And they both had very thick accents to me,

but she was like, ah, I hate the Long Island accent.

It was fascinating.

And different from each other, yeah.

But they live really pretty close together.

Yeah, I wonder sometimes,

why are the accents so strong

around that part of the country,

New Jersey, New York City,

Queens, Staten Island, Long Island?

Why are they so different and so distinct?

Right, I think the areas were settled

by people from different countries,

and then the accent sort of evolved

based on the population.

But it is fascinating the regional dialects

in such a small area can be so strong.

Yeah, and also the fact that in Manhattan,

there really isn’t like a Manhattan accent,

because no one, I mean, some people did,

but not many people really grew up in Manhattan, right?

It’s more of a transient,

you move there, you move in, out for business.

Whereas you go to Staten Island,

and almost everyone,

their families have been there for years,

where the accents are strong.

So really interesting.



And there is a quick note here

that we’re talking about things,

something is inside something else,

but it can be metaphorically inside.

So we say like, oh, I have so much love in my heart,

or, oh, it’s in my top three, right?

So these are not like a physical inside,

but like metaphorically inside.

Inside something.

I love that.

So good, so clear.

Okay, we’re going on to our third preposition, Aubrey.

What is it?

On, so something is touching the surface

of something else, but not in an enclosed space.

Oh, for example.

Say that one more time.

So something is, I need to take that in.

Yeah, so imagine,

I think about like there’s a ball on a lawn,

like the grass in front of someone’s house.

And this is a little tricky, you know?

Be like, the ball is on the grass.

If you’re talking about the grass,

because this is like open grass,

but in the yard,

because now you’re talking about the enclosed space

of this person’s yard.

So that’s fascinating,

where it can change depending on,

are we talking about something,

if it’s always something touching the surface

of something else,

but is it considered an enclosed space or not, right?

So give us some examples.

Okay, yeah, let’s get some examples

for our listeners going, here we go.

So guys, the pen is on the desk, right?

So the pen is touching the surface

of the wooden desk, for example.

The kids are on the sidewalk.

What would be a mistake you see here, Aubrey?

Yeah, so I often hear students say,

it depends of when you’re leaving,

it depends of, but it should be depends on.

It depends on when you’re leaving.

I love it.

And do we see a difference regionally here too?

Yeah, this is fascinating.

Also, if you’ve lived in New York or visited,

you might hear someone say they’re waiting online.

And New Jersey, they also say this,

in standard American English,

we usually say waiting in line,

but do not argue with the New Yorker or correct them.

They are gonna get feisty.

Did you make that mistake arguing with them

when you were there?

No, but I have witnessed people arguing

and they will not back down to them.

It is online.

You gotta love New Yorkers.

I think that’s a theme coming out today

is the New York regional dialect.

It’s so good.

And I think you guys talked about this

on one of the quizzes on our All Ears English Plus.

I think I remember hearing that or something,

somewhere else.

Yes, that came up on one of the quizzes.

Guys, if you’re not doing All Ears English Plus,

the quizzes are so fun

and there’s lots of bonus vocabulary that comes up,

as well as just funny little tidbits and anecdotes.

You don’t wanna miss those quizzes.

That’s so fun.

And then go to New York City

and listen to how people are talking about that.

It’s hilarious.

I love it.

So good.

Do we have time for a little bonus?

What do you think, Aubrey?

I think so.


This is really interesting, you guys.

As an ESL teacher in New York City,

I taught my students that,

because you guys have likely noticed that it’s strange

that we say in a car, but on a bus, on a train,

and you’ve likely heard mistakes about this

because it is weird.

You’re not sitting on top of the bus

or on top of the train,

but in English we say on a train, on a bus.

So I taught my students,

if you have to sit like a car,

we say in, and then we’d say get out.

I get out of the car, I get in the car.

But if you can stand, we say on,

on a bus, on a train, on a plane.

But there are exceptions.

If you start thinking about an RV,

like a motor home or a van that you could stand in,

but we say in a van and a submarine.

So I think I’ve figured out-

This is too complicated.

Do we have a better rule?

It’s too much.

I’m overwhelmed.

We have a better rule.

I think I’ve figured out something

where there’s no exception.

Okay, what’s the secret?

We’re using on because we’re talking

about being on board something.

On board.

And so if you think about something as a people mover,

you get on board something that’s meant

to move large amounts of people.

So we would say we’re on a shuttle,

on a ferry, on a plane, on a bus,

on a train, on the subway,

because it’s meant to transport large amounts of people.

And everything else is in, in a submarine.

Because even though it’s big and you can stand up,

it’s not meant to trans,

that’s not the goal of it,

to transport lots of large amounts of people.

On a cruise ship.

It works because I think about a car

is not large amounts of people, right?

So that doesn’t work.

I love it.

We should do another episode on that hack.

That is a hack and a trick and I love it.

Let’s write it down.

All right, Aubrey,

should we show our listeners a role play?

Yes, this is really fun.

You and I are making plans to meet for a coffee, Lindsay.

You wanna start us out?

I love coffee.

All right, when are you free?

What’s on your schedule for today?

I could go at 10.

Should we try a new coffee shop?

Yes, let’s meet at Mean Bean.

I’m at my house now, in my office,

but I could be there by 10.

Awesome, I’ll meet you at the subway entrance

and we can ride together.

That would be nice if we could all meet

in a coffee shop for a coffee,

if we all lived in the same city.

We’ve never lived in the same city at all.

There’s English, so.

No, we’ve never had a coffee together.

We need to make that happen, Lindsay.

We do, we do.

All right, let’s go back through this.

We had a lot, again, these pesky prepositions,

they’re everywhere.

Yep, so first you said, what’s on your schedule today?

And this is another common mistake

that English learners will sometimes say,

what’s in your schedule or what’s in your calendar?

But in English we say, on.

What’s on your schedule?

What’s on your calendar?

Right, and then I said, yes.

On the surface, written, right?

That makes sense.

Love it, and then you said, I could go at 10.

Should we try a new coffee shop?

I said, yes, let’s meet at Mean Bean.

So this is a place, right?

I made that up, actually.

I think that’s a good name for a coffee shop,

Mean Bean, like coffee beans.

I could see the logo being like a coffee bean

with a mean face.

A little angry, cute little angry coffee bean.

Well, that’s a business idea for you there, Aubrey.

Go for it.

It might be taken, I would have to Google.

But I didn’t find that, there’s not like one here.

I was like, I love this name.

And then what did I say after that?

So then you said, I’m at my house in my office.

And I think this is fascinating to think about

location of your house, right?

I’m at my house, but an office,

we think of as an enclosed space.

So we say, I’m in my office.

I’m in a certain room.

I’m in my bedroom.

Yes, so good, so good.

And then finally you said, awesome,

I’ll meet you at the subway entrance

and we can ride together.

So again, using that at as a location,

a direct place or location.

Yes, exact location, your exact point.

Because like you said, we’d say on the subway,

on the train, but we say at the subway entrance,

because it’s a specific place, specific location.

Oh, so good.

So again, they are everywhere.

What do we have to take away today?

How should we leave our listeners?

Yeah, I think it’s extremely helpful

to be aware of the common mistakes.

I recently met with a student and he was frustrated

because he’s very fluent,

but he recognized he’s making the same mistakes

over and over and he didn’t have anyone to tell him

what these mistakes are.

So he’s excited to be in our classes,

to hear our podcast where we can point out these mistakes

so he can get to that higher level like you guys wanna be.

You don’t wanna stress out about these prepositions,

but it is worth improving.

Yeah, it’s worth some time to think about.

Always think about connection

as the number one most important thing.

So if you can connect and still make that mistake,

that’s totally fine.

But at some point, as we move to 99% fluency,

we’re gonna work together.

We’ll work with you guys to get you to the point

where you’re no longer making these mistakes.

All right?

Good stuff. I love it.

Awesome, so fun.

I have a feeling our listeners really enjoy this

based on how many questions I have received.

I have a hunch.

Yeah, and this is on YouTube too, guys.

So share it with people on YouTube,

share the podcast with your friends

and make sure you hit follow.

Good stuff.

All right, Aubrey. Awesome, really fun.

Talk to you soon.

Have a good one.

You too, bye-bye.


Thanks for listening to All Ears English.

Would you like to know your English level?

Take our two minute quiz.

Go to forward slash fluency score.

And if you believe in connection, not perfection,

then hit subscribe now to make sure you don’t miss anything.

See you next time.

comments powered by Disqus