How to Use the Preposition “At”

‘At’ is one of the most common prepositions in English. The preposition ‘at’ is also used in a number of set phrases. This page summarizes the preposition ‘at’ used for time and place using examples to illustrate usage. Important prepositional phrases with ‘an’ are used as discourse markers which help connect sentences.

Preposition At for Time

At – Time

The preposition ‘at’ is used with specific times of the day. This includes any exact hours with ‘o’clock’ – at one o’clock, five o’clock, etc. For more specific times, use the numbers. Generally we use the twelve hour clock when speaking about everyday life. Schedules use the twenty-four clock.

The meeting begins at three o’clock. Don’t be late!
The store opens at nine o’clock during the week and on Saturdays. It opens at ten o’clock on Sundays.
The flight to Chicago leaves at 14:23.

The preposition ‘at’ is also used in the common phrase ‘at night’, and sunrise and sunset.

If you are careful you can see Venus on the horizon at sunrise.
Jeremy often goes to be late at night.

Use ‘in’ when referring to a period of time in the future.

We will be finished with the project in two weeks’ time.
I think I’m going to study Russian in three years.

At and In – Time Expressions

‘In’ is used with specific time expressions referring to the morning, afternoon or evening. NOTE: Use ‘at’ with ‘night’:

Let’s discuss this issue in the afternoon.
They usually have breakfast early in the morning.
BUT: I generally go to bed early at night.

At – Places

The preposition ‘at’ is used to speak about specific locations in cities or the countryside.

We often have lunch at the docks.
He told me he would be at the bus stop at three o’clock.

At – Buildings

The preposition ‘at’ is used when referring to buildings as locations in a city. This can be confused with the preposition ‘in’. Generally, ‘in’ is used with buildings to mean that something occurs inside the building. ‘At’, on the other hand, is used to express that something happens at the location.

Let’s meet at the bank on the corner of Smith and 14th ave.
Tom works at the hospital on the south side of town.

At Home

The prepositional phrase ‘at home’ is only used when referring to something that is already there. In other words, if motion is involved such as ‘go’ or ‘come’ no preposition is used.

Susan likes staying at home and watching TV on Saturdays.
Tom’s at home at the moment. Should I telephone him?


They drove home and went to bed.
I’m flying home on Friday.

Important Phrases with At

The preposition ‘in’ is also used to introduce and link ideas in English, as well as in popular idiomatic phrases.

At all

‘At all’ is placed at the end of a negative sentence to add emphasis to the statement.

I don’t like liver at all!
He has no desire to visit his parents on vacation at all.

Not at all

‘Not at all’ is often used in formal English when someone expresses thanks.

Thank you for your help. – Not at all.
Thank you for your advice. – Not at all.

At any rate

‘At any rate’ often begins an informal sentence to move the discussion from one topic to another, or to end a story. ‘At any rate’ can also finish a sentence.

At any rate, we finished the report on time.
You’ll be happy to get home after all this hard work, at any rate.

At first

‘At first’ is used to introduce something that changes over time.

At first, I didn’t enjoy living in New York.
At first, Mary Anne didn’t know anyone in town.

At last

‘At last’ is used to begin or end a sentence which expresses the final result.

At last he was able to relax and have a good dinner with his friends.
He was very glad it was over at last.

At least

‘At least’ is a phrase that is used to express a positive side of a negative situation.

At least the teacher gave you some help with your homework.
At least we had the opportunity to visit our friends while we were there.

At the end

‘At the end’ is a time expression referring to the last part of an event. “At the end” can be used at the beginning or end of a sentence.

At the end of her presentation, Samantha asked participants if they had any questions.
Everyone applauded and complemented Paul on his hard work at the end of the evening.

At a premium

‘At a premium’ is a phrase used to express that something costs more than should be generally paid. ‘At a premium’ can be used in both a literal and figurative sense.

He was successful in all his business at a premium to his private life.
I’m sure you can buy one on e-bay, but it will come at a premium.

At the last minute

‘At the last minute’ is used to speak about something that just manages to happen.

We were able to book a flight to New York at the last minute.
Unfortunately, my son tends to do things at the last minute.

At the outside

‘At the outside’ is used to estimate the most something should cost, or time something should take.

At the outside, I’ll be finished with this report in two days.
I’d say it will cost you $400 at the outside=

At sea

‘At sea’ is used to express that someone is on a boat. It is often used in historical writing to refer to sailors. It is also used as an idiom to mean lost.

He was at sea for fifteen months.
Jack and I were at sea and didn’t know what to do.

At half-mast

‘At half-mast’ is specifically used with flags to indicate mourning.

The flag is at half-mast today. I wonder what happened.
If you see a flag at half-mast you know someone is sad.

At loose ends

‘At loose ends’ refers to something that isn’t organized. This can be used in a literal figurative manner.

All the records are at loose ends. We need to get organized!
I’m afraid I’m at loose ends lately. I just don’t know what to do.

At this stage

‘At this stage’ is used to refer to a the development of a particular product or process.

At this stage the metal is heated to 200 degrees celsius.
Children begin to try to do tasks on their own at this stage.