Little English Words That Often Cause Difficulties Ep 421

Sunset at Dunraven Bay a large beach at Southerndown on the south coast of Wales. As we tackle tiny English words that cause English language learners difficulty.

📝 Author: Hilary

📅 Published:

🎈 Updated On:

💬 1664 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 9 min

📥 Download 7.1 Mb

ESL Help With English Grammar

Once more we delve into the nuance of English language. Taking what appears to be at face value the simplest of English words and navigating their often illogical use. So today we have an ESL English grammar lesson on teeny English locational prepositions. As usual, we provide lots of examples, which you can listen to, and at the end we have a test to see just how well you understand the topic.

It’s almost as though they created the English language with “difficulty to learn built in”. English speakers use even the shortest English words in weird ways. So why not listen along and practice your English listening skills while you test your understanding at the end?

We appreciate the many e-mails from listeners. E-mails with people sharing their language learning journeys and how Adept English has helped (I love reading these!). And lots of questions about our language courses and even emails with offers to help me in the garden!

English is not logical, it’s expressive.
⭐ A.D. Aliwat, In Limbo

Hearing from you and helping you with your English language learning gives me great pleasure. So thank you for all your communications and please keep your emails coming, and don’t forget to send in lesson ideas.

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 2 word phrases:

Most Common3
You May3
Little Words3
A Geographical2
A Specific2
Lives At2
Lives In2

Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: Little English Words That Often Cause Difficulties

Hi there and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. I sometimes say that it’s the little words in English that often cause difficulties. It’s the little words which are troublesome sometimes for language learners. So today, let’s look at some really simple two letter words, teeny, tiny, little words – but words which can easily trip up language students.

Our new, improved Most Common 500 Words in English Course

And talking of the short and simple words, don’t forget to have a look at our courses page at If you haven’t bought our new, improved Most Common 500 Words Course, that is. The simplest words in English, the most commonly used ones form the basis of the language and are the words you very much need to learn.

Boost Your Learning With Adept English

You may be thoroughly confident that you’ve got these down, that you are OK with these – and you may be right. But if you’re not sure – and you think that you may benefit from doing a course which really ‘grounds’ you in the language, ensures that you’ve got the basics, then consider buying our 500 Most Common Words Course.

And if you don’t feel the need to buy a course, but if you do value what we’re doing and you’d like to support Adept English, then please give us a rating or a review – on whatever platform you use to listen to us. Thankyou for that!

In, at and on for location

So let’s look today at when to use ‘in’ or ‘at’ or ‘on’ for location. Sounds really simple, doesn’t it? But let’s see if we can test out your knowledge of prepositions! There will be a quiz at the end, so that you can check for yourself! ‘In’, ‘at’ and ‘on’ for location. Let’s see.

So generally, when we’re using a geographical location, as in a place names in a sentence, we say ‘in’.

I was at my daughter’s flat in London.

We were staying on a farm in Dorset.

My sister lives in Scotland and my brother lives in Madrid.

If we’re talking about the location on a map in relation to a geographical feature, we might say something like

Barmouth is on the west coast of Wales.

Or Paris is on the River Seine.

He lives on the border between Northern and Southern Ireland.

If we’re talking about a specific storey, or floor of a building, we use ‘on’. We might say

My daughter’s flat is on the fourth floor.

Or ‘You’ll find the reception on the ground floor’.

For other situations, we may use ‘at’.

My sister lives at number 32.

My father lives at the pub in the village.

My auntie is staying at the Hotel Figaro.

We live at 32 Lavender Close.

So we’d use ‘at’ where there’s information known about the building, where the building is being talked about as a sort of landmark or a specific address is being mentioned.

The preposition can change the meaning of the sentence

In some phrases, ‘at’ or ‘in’ can show the length of time you’re in a place. So for example, if someone said that my friend was ‘at the hospital’, I’d take that to mean that she was visiting someone else, who was a patient in the hospital or that she’d gone for an appointment herself, but wasn’t staying there – she wasn’t being admitted, she was an ‘out-patient’.

Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript

So ‘at the hospital’. Whereas if someone told me my friend was ‘in hospital’ or ‘in the hospital’, I’d take that to mean that she was the patient, she herself had been admitted to hospital and had a bed there, staying overnight. So subtly different ‘at the hospital’ and ‘in hospital’ or ‘in the hospital’, but different meanings.

It’s a little bit like the example I’ve given before, where if you say ‘Oh, I’m on the bed’ – it means you’re lying on top of the bed, fully clothed, whereas if you say ‘I’m in bed’, that means you’ve gone to bed, you’re tucked in under the covers, ready to go to sleep!


Preposition phrases which have set patterns

There are also certain patterns we use, which are like fixed phrases – like ‘in bed’.

When I’m at work, I like to chat with my colleagues.

My son doesn’t speak much in class, but he talks a lot at home.

So ‘in class’, ‘at home’. If you’re talking about someone being in education more generally, you’re describing the stage of their education, you’d say they were ‘at school’ or ‘at college’ or ‘at university’. But if you’re talking about a specific time or a specific occasion, they would be ‘in class’ or ‘in a lecture’ or ‘in school’, ‘in college’, ‘in a lesson’.

In, at and on for modes of transport

And just to jazz it up a little, when it comes to different ‘modes of transport’, we use different prepositions too.

I was on the train, when you first called me and I was in the car when you called again.

So you would use ‘on’ for trains, trams, buses, coaches and planes, but ‘in’ for taxis and cars. For a small boat you can be ‘on’ or ‘in’, but you have to be ‘on’ a ship or ‘on board’ a ship. For a submarine, it’s ‘on’ a submarine, ‘in’ a submarine, or ‘on board a submarine’. And you’d be ‘on’ a horse or any other animal that you might ride, if that’s your mode of transport. You’re also ‘on’ a bike or ‘on’ a scooter. And you’re ‘on’ a plane, but you’d travel ‘in’ a helicopter.


A photograph of a sailboat on the Egyptian Nile river. As we talk about English prepositions for location.

©️ Adept English 2021

Test your own prepositions - in, at and on

So little words, which can be troublesome. Now you might be perfectly OK with this – and know these really well. Or these might be difficult, because they’re not logical. When is English logical you may ask yourself?! Shall we do a little quiz to test you out? Here goes. Is it ‘on’, ‘at’ or ‘in where the noise sounds in the following sentences?

  1. Today I’m staying ? home, but from tomorrow I’ll be ? hospital for my operation. (Again?)
  2. My journey had several legs – I was ? the car for half an hour, then ? a train for four hours, then ? a taxi to the hotel.
  3. I’m staying ? the Red Lion Hotel ? the centre of town.
  4. This year, my daughter is ? college, but from September she’ll be ? university.
  5. We live ? the second floor, above a hairdresser’s shop ? Amsterdam.
  6. My cousin lives ? a boat, ? the river, ? Oxford.


OK – that’s it. You’ll find the answers in the transcript. Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.



The voice of Adeptenglish, loves English and wants to help people who want to speak English fluently.
🔺Top of page

TAWK is Disabled

Created with the help of Zola and Bulma