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Prepositions of Time


In an earlier post, Kate gave a helpful overview of the most common time-related prepositions in English. Her post looked not just at the meanings of these prepositions, but also at the grammar rules for them.

There are quite a few other prepositions of time that are less common, but still important. In this post, we’ll look at a longer, more comprehensive list of prepositions of time in English. This list will be much longer than Kate’s earlier list, so I’ll just give use/meaning of each time preposition, without giving an in-depth look at grammar.

You’ll still get a chance to practice grammar, however. In a later post, I’ll give a review activity that focuses on grammar and use of these time-related prepositions.

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  • AT
    • Used for clock times: at 1pm, at 2:30
    • Used for timed events: at breakfast, at the annual meeting
    • Used to describe the immediate present: at present, at the moment
    • Used for days, but ONLY if the days are holidays: at Christmas, at thanksgiving, at Easter
    • Used in a handful of special expressions: at night, at the age of…
  • ON
    • Used with dates and days: on March 21, on Christmas, on Monday, on Sundays*
      • Make the day or date plural to describe a recurring weekly event.
  • IN
    • Used to describe phases of the day: in the afternoon, in the evening, in the night
    • Used to describe the amount of time that will pass before something happens in the future: It will be Christmas in 22 days. It will be Thursday in about 4 hours. It will be 8pm in 10 minutes.
    • Used with months, years, decades, and centuries: in March, in 1979, in the 70s, in the twentieth century
    • Used for weeks: in the third week of August, in the fourth week of Ramadan
    • Used to describe how long it takes for something to happen: I finished eating that sandwich in five minutes. I finished my Master’s Degree in 3 years.
  • FOR
    • Used to describe the duration of a specific time period: A year lasts for twelve months. Italy has been a democracy for seven decades
  • UNTIL
    • Used to describe the point at which a situation discontinues or stops: There will be daylight until around 5pm.
  • SINCE
    • This is kind of the opposite of “until.” It describes when a situation started, instead of when it ended: It has been raining since this morning. Germany has been reunited since 1990.
  • DURING
    • Used to describe a larger time period in which an event occurs: Italy and America both had civil wars during the 19th He fell asleep during class.
  • FROM
    • Used to describe when an event begins, but only for an event that is about to begin or has just recently begun and has not ended yet: We will be having our office party from after this meeting until late evening. This sale started from 8pm when the store opened.
  • TO
    • Used to describe when an event ends, but only for an event that is currently going on, or has very recently ended: The television special runs to 9pm. The negotiations continued to 2am this morning.
    • Used to describe clock times when a new hour is approaching on the clock: It’s quarter to 1.
  • FROM and TO together
    • Used to describe the beginning and end of any time period: Obama’s presidency will run from 2008 to 2016. Our lunch break is from 12-12:30pm.
  • BEFORE
    • Used to describe a time that happens earlier than another time: The first World War ended before I was born. You must wake up before you eat breakfast.
  • AFTER
    • Used to describe a period in time that happens later than another time: Easter comes after Valentine’s Day. I go home after work.
  • THROUGH
    • Used to describe an event that happens all the way from the very beginning of a time period to the very end of the period. Something that happens through a time period may have started before that time period, and might end after that time period: It is dark all through the night, that’s why they call it night. It snowed in November, all through December, and into January.
  • WITHIN
    • Used to describe a time period that happens at the same time as another longer time period: Within the year, several different natural disasters happened. I will finish this within an hour.
  • INSIDE
    • Describes the longest time period that a task will be completed in: I’ll have the job done inside the afternoon!
  • OUTSIDE
    • This is kind of the opposite of “”inside.” Describes a time period that is too short to complete a task in: You’ll be lucky if I can repair this outside of 6 days.
  • INTO
    • Used to describe a time period that overlaps with the beginning of another time period: It will snow at the end of the year and into the beginning of the next year. We will attend class in the morning and into the afternoon.
  • AGO
    • Used to describe how far in the past an event happened (often this word is used with dramatic connotation, so you’ll see it in songs and in movies): It was twenty years ago today, Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play. Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away…. Many years ago my father went to Paris.
  • UP TO
    • Can have the same meaning as “to”: Our meeting will go to closing time, because it can only go up to closing time.
    • Can describe the maximum amount of time something might take: Students may take up to 4 hours and 10 minutes to complete the TOEFL exam.
  • UPWARDS OF
    • Means “this amount of time and possibly more than this amount of time”: Students spend upwards of 3 ½ hours on the TOEFL.
  • OVER
    • Describes a completion or ending of a time period: The day is finally over. The war is over, and now both sides have signed a piece treaty.
    • Means “more than” when describing a quantity of time: When I called the electric company, they put me on hold for over 10 minutes.
    • Describes an event that happens during a specific time period: He completed his research over summer break. They talked over the hour. (Note that “the hour” is a specific hour that must take place at a specific time, because it has “the” as its article. See this blog post.)
  • UNDER
    • Means “less than” when describing quantity of time: An hour long TV show can be watched in under an hour on DVD, because the commercials have been removed from the show.
  • PAST
    • Used to describe how much time has passed between one point in time and another later point in time: 11pm is two hours past my son’s normal bedtime.
    • Used to describe clock times when an hour on the clock has recently been reached: It’s 10 past 3pm.
  • THAN
    • Used to compare two different amounts of time: A minute is shorter than an hour. I am older than you.

And that brings us to a total of twenty-three common prepositions of time. This may feel like quite the English workout. But we’re just getting warmed up. In the next post in this series, I’ll give you an activity where you can review all of the prepositions of time.

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