How to Talk About Time in English - Time Prepositions and Phrases


Hi, I’m Oli.

Welcome to Oxford Online English!

In this lesson, you can learn how to talk about time in English.

Youll learn how to use prepositions, conjunctions and other useful words and phrases to talk

about time.

If youre watching on YouTube, don’t forget to check out the full version of this lesson

on our website: Oxford Online English dot com.

The full lesson contains the script and a quiz to help you practice what youve learned.

Go to Oxford Online English dot com and try it!

The things youll learn in this lesson will help you in many situations: telling stories,

saying when things happen, talking about the future, describing how long something lasted,

and many more.

Let’s start with one of the most basic ways to talk about time.

When’s her birthday?

How many times have you asked me that?

It’s in December.

Are you sure?

I thought it was in January.

No, it’s definitely in December, on the 23rd.

But that can’t be right.

Her birthday was on a Saturday last year, and this year the 23rd is a Wednesday.

Youre thinking of her birthday *party.* She had it on the weekend before her birthday.

Don’t you remember?

Our car broke down and we got there at eleven.

Oh yeah!

And then we had to stay the night there because we couldn’t drive back.

That’s right!

Then, in the morning, remember that we had to try to call a tow truck, and we couldn’t

find anyone who was working?

Of course!

What a nightmare!

What time did we get home in the end?



It was in the evening, but not too late.

Maybe at six, yeah.

Was that the second time we went?

No, weve been three times.

The first was in 2015, we were away in 2016, and then we went in 2017 and 2018.

So, if we go this year, itll be the fourth time.

Has she invited us?

Yeah, she’s having her party on the Friday before her birthday.

So, on the 18th?

That’s right.

In the dialogue, you heard many examples of usingat’, ‘onandinto talk

about when things are.

Can you remember any?

Do you know any rules about usingat’, ‘onandinto talk about time?

Useinfor months and years.

For example: ‘in December’, ‘in January’, ‘in 2016’ orin 1999.’

You can also useinfor parts of the day: ‘in the morning,’ ‘in the afternoon’,

orin the evening’.

Useonwith days and dates.

For example: ‘on Saturday’, ‘on Friday’, ‘on the 3rd’, oron the 20th of November’.

Useatwith times.

For example: ‘at six o’clock’, ‘at five thirty’, orat twelve forty-five’.

There are a few exceptions and flexible cases.

In British English, you say: ‘at the weekendandat Christmas’, but in American English,

you sayon the weekendandon Christmas’.

Also, although you sayin the morning’, ‘in the afternoonandin the evening’,

you also sayat night’.

It’s an exception.

Let’s practice quickly!

Were going to ask you four questions.

After each question, pause the video and answer with a full sentence.


When’s your birthday?

What time did you get up this morning?

When’s the last time you went on vacation?

When’s your next day off?

How was that?

Could you answer all the questions?

Of course, there are many possible answers, but here are some suggestions.

You could say, ‘My birthday’s on the eighth of June.’

You could say, ‘I got up at half past seven.'

You could say, ‘The last time I went on vacation was in May.’

You could say, ‘My next day off is on Saturday.’

Could you answer all the questions?

Remember that you can go back and review this section if you need to!

Let’s move on to our next point.

I can’t work like this!

This is ridiculous!

What’s the problem now?

The network’s not working again.

I’ve spent the whole morning dealing with this.

I can’t even log in.

How’m I supposed to work?

Have you called the IT department?

Of course!

Theyre useless!

They told me it’d be fixed in an hour, but it wasn’t.

I called again and they promised that it’d be done by midday at the latest, but now it’s

nearly two and so far nothing seems to have happened.

Well, I’m sure itll be fixed in the next few hours.

Can’t you do some other work in the meantime?

I need the image files, which are in a shared folder.

I promised my client this would be done by the end of today.

Now I’m going to look bad because we can’t make our computer systems work.

You should take this more seriously, you know.

I am taking it seriously, but we don’t have these problems all the time.

Until recently, everything worked pretty well, right?

I wouldn’t say that.

Weve had at least five days this month when things weren’t available for an hour

or more.

In the long run, that lost time adds up.

I agree; it’s not ideal, but look: in the short term, there’s not much I can do.

I’ll talk to the IT department and try to move things along.

I can also call your client to explain the situation and apologise, if you like.

How does that sound?

Sounds good.

OK, so well talk in an hour and I’ll give you an update.


In this section, youre going to learn how to use the prepositionsin’, ‘by’,


In this dialogue, you saw a different way to usein’.

Do you remember what you heard?

You heard: ‘They told me it’d be fixed in an hour’, andWell talk in an hour.’

What doesinmean here?

You can useinplus a time period to say when something will happen.

It’s most often used to talk about the future, although you might use it in the past if youre

talking about what someone said.

For example, ‘Well arrive in three days.’

This means that well arrive three days from now.

If today is Tuesday, I mean well arrive on Friday.

Here’s another example: ‘Your car will be ready in 30 minutes.’

That means, if it’s one o’clock now, your car will be ready at one-thirty.

There are also phrases within’, likein the short term’, orin the long


In the short termmeans youre talking about the near future.

In the long runhas the opposite meaning: youre talking about the distant future.

For example: ‘In the short term, he needs to focus on getting out of debt.’

This means that in the near future, paying off his debt should be his priority.

Next, let’s think aboutbyanduntil’.

Do you know the difference between these two prepositions?

Look at two sentences: ‘Shell be here by Friday.’

Shell be here until Friday’.

What’s the difference?

By Fridaymeansany time before Friday’.

If you say, ‘Shell be here by Friday’, you mean that she’s not here now, and shell

arrive some time between now and Friday.

You don’t know exactly when shell arrive, but youre sure that she won’t arrive

later than Friday.

Until Fridaymeanscontinuously from now up to Friday’.

If you say, ‘Shell be here until Friday’, you mean that she’s here now, but shell

leave on Friday.

So, the two sentences have very different meanings.

Does your language have different words forbyanduntilwith these meanings?

Some languages use one preposition for both meanings; if this is the case in your language,

youll need to be careful usingbyanduntilin English!

Let’s do a quick test.

Look at four sentences.

Pause the video if you need more thinking time.


Let’s look at the answers.

Did you get them all right?

If so, well done!

If not, remember that you can review each section as many times as you need to.

What’s next?

Where’s Georgia?

Weren’t you meeting her at the airport?


It’s a nightmare!


What happened?

I was waiting for her in the arrivals hall, but I needed the toilet.

I guess while I was in there, she came out, didn’t see me and went outside.

These things happen.

Anyway, I went back and waited for a while.

Then, I realised that she must have arrived already, so I went outside to look for her.

You won’t believe it: as I was going down in the elevator, she was going up in the elevator

on the other side, trying to find me.

How do you know?

She called me later; well get to that.

So, I looked around for her near the train station, but I couldn’t see her.

Just as I was going to go back to arrivals, she called me.


The signal was really bad, so I couldn’t really hear her.

I ran outside to get a better signal, and at the exact moment I got out of the doors,

my battery died.

That’s bad luck!

So I went back up to arrivals, but it turns out she was going down at the same time, so

we missed each other again.

It’s like a comedy film!

I wasn’t laughing at the time.

I figured that she’d catch the train into the city, so I decided to just go to her hotel

and wait for her there.

So did you meet her?

No, but I did find somewhere to charge my phone, so I called her.

She was still at the airport.

And where is she now?

She said she’d take the train into the centre, so shell call me as soon as she arrives.

I hope she doesn’t fall asleep during the journey and miss her stop

Don’t even joke about it!

Look at two sentences you heard in the dialogue.

Here’s a question: what’s the difference betweenduringandwhile’?

Both words are used to say *when* something happened.

Specifically, you use them to talk about two things which happened at the same time, or

something that happened in the middle of something else.

However, theyre used in different ways.

Afterduring’, use a noun.

For example, ‘My phone rang during the film’; ‘During my presentation, there was a power

cut’; ‘I met my husband during my trip to Corsica.’

Afterwhile’, use a clause; that means you use a subject and a verb.

For example, ‘I wasn’t paying attention while he was explaining what to do’;

While I’m out, can you tidy up the living room?'

‘I like listening to music while I’m working.’

You can also useatto talk about things which happened at the same time.

For example: ‘At the exact moment I got out of the doors, my battery died;’

‘I went back up to arrivals, but it turns out she was going down at the same time.’

You could use these in different ways; for example, ‘At the exact moment the train

left, I saw her running into the station’.

You can’t study and watch TV at the same time.’

Finally, you can useasto talk about the moment when something happened.

In the dialogue, you heard these.

Asmeansat the moment when’.

So, the first sentence means that at the moment when I was going down in the elevator, she

was going up in the other elevator.

Just ashas the same meaning, but it’s more emphatic.

Usejust asto mean that two things happened at *exactly* the same time.

As soon asalso has the same meaning, but it’s used to talk about the future.

You use it to say that two things *will* happen at the same time.

You can make more examples with this language, like this: ‘As I was walking down the street,

I heard thunder in the distance’; ‘I got to the airport just as they closed

the gate for my flight’; ‘Well leave as soon as youre ready.'

So, in this section, you saw how to useduring’, ‘while’, ‘atandasto talk

about things which happen at the same time.

Note thatduringandatare prepositions here, whereaswhileandasare


Let’s look at one more thing.

Can we stop for something to eat?

I didn’t have lunch and I’m starving!

I’ve been waiting for you for ages!

Were already going to be late.

I think we should go straight there.

Come on, it won’t take long.

You always say that, and then you take forever.

That’s not fair!

Well, hey, you shouldve been on time.

It’s not my fault youre always late

I’m really punctual these days.

This is the first time I’ve been late for a while.

Are you serious?

Every time I met you over the summer, you were at least half an hour late.

Yes, but since then, I’ve been mostly on time, right?

Youve been less late.

During the last few weeks, I’ve really been trying to be on time.

I know it’s a bad habit to turn up late everywhere, but it’s a tough habit to break

Anyway, I don’t want to be even later than we already are.

Everyone will be wondering what’s happened.

Let’s just go, and you can get some food there.

But I haven’t eaten anything since this morning!

Just stop at a shop and let me buy a snack or something.

Itll take less than five minutes, I promise.

Oh, alright.

If you want to describe how long something continued, what can you use?

Can you remember any of the examples you heard in the dialogue?

Often, to describe a period of time, you use the prepositionfor’.

For example, ‘I’ve been waiting for you for ages’.

You can use this in many different ways in the past, present and future; for example,

‘I’ve worked here for 10 years’; ‘I’ll be staying here for six weeks’;

She lived in Paris for several months.’

There are also many common phrases withfor’, likefor agesorfor a while’.

For agesmeans for a long time; ‘for a whilemeans for some time.

‘A whilemeans a time period which is not very short and not very long.

It’s not very specific, but it’s useful and common in spoken English.

Here’s a question: can you complete the missing verb in this sentence?

The missing verb istake’.

You can usetaketo say how long something will continue.

In the dialogue, you also heard, ‘It won’t take long’;

Itll take less than five minutes, I promise.’

You can usetakein many different situations.

For example, ‘How long does it take you to get to work?’;

Getting to the airport takes about 45 minutes if the traffic’s not too bad.’

If you want to talk about something which happened within a longer period of time, you can use


In the dialogue, you heard, ‘Every time I met you over the summer, you were at least

half an hour late’; ‘Over the last few weeks, I’ve been really

trying to be on time.’

Overhas a similar meaning toduring’, but it’s more conversational, and you use

it only with longer time periods.

You might also see the phraseover time’, which meansgradually.’

For example, ‘Over time, cars are getting more efficient, and therefore cheaper to run.’

This is a big topic, and there’s a lot we weren’t able to fit into this video!

Are there other time prepositions or phrases you’d like to know more about?

Please leave your suggestions in the comments!

Thanks for watching!

See you next time!

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