Choosing the correct preposition in English can often be tricky, as the incorrect preposition can not only impair understanding but, in some cases, completely change the meaning of what you are trying to say.
The following feature will focus on the use of IN, ON and AT when speaking about place/position.
We use ‘in’ when we are talking about being specifically inside a larger area. For example:
I am in the classroom (the classroom is larger than me)
The classroom is in the school (the school is larger than the classroom)
The school is in Edinburgh (Edinburgh is larger than the school)
We use ‘on’ when we talk about a surface. For example:
The cup is on the table (the table is a surface)
The picture is on the wall (the wall is a surface)
The teacher writes on the whiteboard (the whiteboard is a surface)
So far, we have learnt that we use in for a larger area and on for a surface. However, let’s look at the following examples:
I’m on the bus
I’m on the train
I’m on the plane
I’m in the car
I’m in a taxi
One reason for this is that the bus, trains and planes are usually public, whereas cars and taxis are private.
Another reason for this is that buses, trains and planes have a pre-determined route (we don’t decide where it goes, it follows a specific route). You can’t for example, ask a train to stop outside your house. It is restricted to the tracks. You also can’t ask a pilot to land the plane in your back garden. However, you can decide where to go in your car or in a taxi.
We use ‘at’ when we talk about a point. For example:
I’m at the bus stop (the point where the bus stops)
Who is at the door? (the point just outside the door)
We also often use at when we are talking about public buildings/services/conveniences:
I’m at the supermarket
I’m at the dentist
I’m at the pub
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘IN’ AND ‘AT’?
The following sentences are both correct:
I’m in the swimming pool
I’m at the swimming pool
Why is this?
The first example means you are actually in the water and swimming, whereas the second example could mean you are in the changing room, having a shower or getting dressed.
When we use in, we are specifically inside something (the swimming pool in this case), where at is much more general.
With that logic, you can say “I’m in the supermarket”, if you are INSIDE the supermarket or “I’m at the supermarket” to either mean you’re INSIDE or JUST OUTSIDE the supermarket.
Please note, this only applies to buildings/services/conveniences (you’re unlikely to find someone IN the door, they’re more likely to be AT the door).
This is a very brief overview of these prepositions. As with many language points, the important thing is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. The more practice you get, the more natural your use of prepositions will become.
It is sometimes difficult to differentiate between the present perfect simple and the present perfect progressive.
Compare the following sentences:
1. I have written 6 letters this morning 2. I have been writing letters all morning.
In example 1 (present perfect simple), the implication is that the action is completed and the focus is on the AMOUNT or QUANTITY of something (in this case, the letters).
In example 2 (present perfect continuous/progressive), the action may or may not be completed depending on the context (maybe you just finished writing letters, or maybe you have more to write). Example 2 does not express an amount or quantity, it focuses more on the DURATION (all morning).
In summary, present perfect simple focuses on AMOUNT/QUANTITY, whereas present perfect continuous focuses on DURATION. Compare the following:
1. I have eaten the chocolates. 2. I have been eating chocolates.
Example 1 focuses on the AMOUNT of chocolates, indicating that the chocolates are finished. In example 2, it focuses on the DURATION of the action, which may or may not be completed (there may still be chocolates to eat).
So far, we have seen that present perfect simple focuses on AMOUNT and present perfect continuous on DURATION. However, look at the following sentences:
I have been a teacher for 7 years. I have had a car for 6 years.
In both sentences, present perfect simple is used when expressing a duration. Why is this?
This is because the verbs ‘be’ and ‘have’ belong to a group of verbs known as state (or stative) verbs. That is, they express a state (a feeling, or something permanent). In other words, they do not describe a physical action (for example: eat, dance, drink, sing).
Other state (stative) verbs include: like, dislike, hate, love. While action (or dynamic) verbs have continuous forms, state verbs DO NOT HAVE CONTINUOUS FORMS, as they are not physical actions.
Learning Present Perfect and Present Perfect Progressive
The best way to learn these tenses is to use hobbies and careers. For example:
I started playing guitar in 1999 and I still play guitar now, so I have been playing guitar for 17 years. In these 17 years I have learnt 200 songsand played 150 shows.
From traditional folk to punk-rock, blues to metal, pop to jazz, Edinburgh’s live music scene has something for everyone.
If you enjoy traditional folk music, make sure to visit one of Edinburgh’s many renowned folk bars. For over half a century, local musicians and many from further afield have kept the spirit of traditional folk music alive at Sandy Bell’s (Forrest Road). The world-famous folk sessions do not follow the format of a traditional concert. The musicians perform at a table in the pub, with the audience enjoying the traditional folk atmosphere while enjoying a variety of Scottish beers and whiskies.
For those who enjoy folk music but also want to get involved, there are also regular folk sessions at the nearby Captains Bar (South College Street) and the Royal Oak (Infirmary Street) in which anyone is welcome to participate. All folk bars are free to enter, but there may be a tip jar to drop coins into if you enjoy the music. Remember to be generous, as the musicians are not generally being paid for their work!
If you are keen on performing but folk is not your style, Edinburgh boasts an incredible number of open mic nights which you can find here. At these events, anyone is welcome to sign up and perform, usually for three songs or fifteen minutes.
The live music scene of the Scottish capital also provides ample opportunity to sit back with a drink and enjoy well-known hits performed by local talent. Crowds in pubs up and down the Royal Mile and down in the historic Grassmarket are entertained by well-performed, sing-a-long hit songs.
Edinburgh’s music scene is alive and kicking, with very talented musicians and singers performing a diverse range of music. One night on the scene and you’ll be hooked!
Meet the Director of Edinburgh’s Language Centre | Interview in 7 Languages