When do you do this? Time Discussing Rules in English

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The word “when” is used in all questions about time and dates. You may hear such type of question several times a day. The challenge is that there are several ways to answer it in English. In this article, you will learn how to use different words to answer questions like “When do you complete this task?” and find useful phrases to speak about date and time.

At as an adverbial

“At” is the first word used as an adverb in English to refer to time and dates. Its correct usage is essential for clear and precise communication. So, when to use “at” in a sentence?

  1. To speak about specific times. You should use “at” when referring to a certain time of the day. This includes hours, minutes, and seconds. Here are some examples:
  • The meeting starts at 3 p.m.
  • We will meet at 10.30. A.m.
  1. To speak about festivals and holidays. When speaking about a period that refers to a certain holiday, you should use “at.” For example:
  • At Christmas, we usually have a week of day-offs.
  • At Easter, the town hosts a festival for 3 days.

It’s crucial to remember that “at” with holidays and festivals is used only when you speak about the whole period. When you speak about a certain day, it’s more natural to use “on.” Check these two examples:

  • At Christmas, we open presents in the morning.
  • On Christmas, we open presents in the morning.

Both variants may be considered as correct. However, the action “open presents in the morning” refers to a specific moment on a certain day. That is why “on Christmas” will be more natural in this case. Be careful of this difference when you use “at” in a sentence since it affects the clarity of your communication.

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In as an adverbial

How to say it correctly: on February or in February? This is a very common question and mistake among English language learners. Both variants look correct, but only “in February” is correct. There are some more situations when you use “in” in a sentence.

  1. Months and years. "In" is your companion for referring to months, years, and even centuries, framing them as periods within which events occur.
    • Correct: She was born in October.
    • Correct: The Renaissance began in the 14th century.
    • Incorrect: She was born on October.
    • Incorrect: The television was invented on 1927.
  2. Seasons. You should use only “in” with seasons.
    • Correct: I love to ski in winter.
    • Incorrect: I love to ski on winter.
  3. Decades and Centuries. For discussing broader historical periods, "in" sets the stage.
    • Correct: In the 1980s, technology saw rapid advancement.
    • Correct: The Industrial Revolution started in the XVIII century. 
  4. Parts of the Day. While "in" is generally used for larger time periods, it also finds its place in describing parts of the day, with the notable exception of "night."
    • Correct: He usually reads in the evening.
    • Correct: I prefer to wake up early in the morning. 
    • Incorrect: He usually reads at the evening.

Remember that there is an exception when speaking about night. When you want to refer to a certain moment, you still should say “in the night.” For example, “I have heard a strange noise at about 1 a.m. in the night.” Yet speaking about the whole night, you should say “at night.” For example, “Usually, it’s very dark at night.”

On as an adverbial

On is the last common preposition that acts as an adverbial when used to speak about time and dates. It’s important for setting the stage of events, appointments and even historical moments. Here are the main situations and rules when to use on in a sentence:

  1. Specific days and dates. "On" is used to introduce specific days of the week, dates, and special days. It’s also used to speak about holidays when referring to a specific day.
    • We're meeting on Friday.
    • Her birthday is on October 12th.
    • What are you going to do on Christmas Eve?
  2. Day parts with specific events. Although less common, "on" can be used when referring to specific parts of the day with an event.
    • The show is at 10 a.m on the morning of the 24th.

Remember that using “on” to refer to parts of the day is allowed only when you speak about a certain time. For example, “The show is at 10 a.m on the morning of the 24th” is correct. If you don’t want to specify a certain time, you should use “in the morning.”

Useful phrases to speak about dates and time

Speaking about time, except for adverbials “an,” “in,” and “on,” you will use additional phrases like “yesterday,” “this Tuesday,” “this week,” “next Friday,” and so on. Such expressions are common in everyday communication. However, English is rich in non-ordinary phrases that help to discuss time. Here are some of them:

Word/Noun PhraseMeaningExample Sentence
the crack of dawnVery early in the morningHe woke up at the crack of dawn to start his hike.
the wee hoursThe early hours after midnightShe studied until the wee hours to prepare for the exam.
the stroke of midnightExactly at midnightThe celebration starts at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve.
the dead of nightThe middle of the nightThe streets were empty in the dead of night.
the turn of the centuryThe beginning of a new centuryThe invention marked a significant change at the turn of the century.
the eleventh hourThe last moment before a deadlineThe project was completed in the eleventh hour, just in time.
the peak of the seasonThe busiest or most crowded time of the seasonThe beach is crowded at the peak of the season.
the outset of the yearThe beginning of the yearNew goals are set at the outset of the year.
the brink of dawnJust before dawn beginsThey planned to leave at the brink of dawn to avoid traffic.

Mastering these expressions, you will surprise your friends and even proficient speakers. However, don’t overuse them. Integrate idioms into your language only when appropriate to sound natural. 

Useful Phrases for Talking About Dates and Time

Conclusion

The correct usage of prepositions of time is essential for language learners. Although there are some challenges, you can master these rules with practice. 

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