Day to Day Prepositions

Prepositions are a tricky issue, we have said this before. But if we take them little by little with some aids, we can get to master them through practice. That’s why, on this post we will talk about the expressions used to refer to the different parts of the day.


Let us first consider a span of 24 consecutive hours, that is to say a day going from night to night. In between them we have the three longest portions of the day: morning, afternoon and evening. Many times it is a little difficult to define what the evening is and when it takes place. Let’s put it this way: the evening is the operational part of the night. It goes from sunset to bedtime. Thus, when we use the expression “Good evening” at night, we are saying “hello”; whereas when we say “Good night”, we are actually saying goodbye. For further clarity we have this example of a play in which a Spanish-speaking actor hasn’t fully understood this difference. In this scene, the lover comes to the bedroom of his beloved through the window ready to confess the passions of his heart and he starts by greeting the damsel.



(Draw curtain)

The scene takes place in Lady Exham’s chamber; she is sitting in front of a large mirror brushing her hair. Romualdine, Prince of Liepzig, enters through the window.


Good night.


Ok, good bye.


This is why it’s so important to make the difference.

Anyway, let’s get back to the long parts of the day which are shown on the following timeline.

Parts of day 1

Next, as you can see in the timeline, there are some purple blocks between the long parts of the day. They represent the short parts of the day: between the night and the morning we have “dawn” and “sunrise”. Dawn and sunrise are synonyms. However, dawn can also refer to the hours between midnight and sunrise itself, also called ‘the wee hours.’ Between the morning and the afternoon we have “midday” and “noon”, also synonyms. Between the afternoon and the evening –a very blurry moment of the day- we have “sunset” and “dusk” (“Twilight” would fit the description as well, but I refuse to mention it for literary reasons. Nevertheless, the word “twilight” can help us understand this moment if we remember the famous Sci-Fi/Suspense TV series “The Twilight Zone”, this title points out there is an area which is difficult to pin down and describe accurately). An easy way to remember that “dawn” means “sunrise” and “dusk” “sunset”, is to recall Robert Rodríguez’s movie “From Dusk ‘til Dawn” (George Clooney, Salma Hayek). Lastly, between the evening and the night we have “midnight”, more than an actual time on the clock, it’s the perception that evening has come to an end. These names are depicted below.

Parts of day 2

Now, once these names are clear, we have to get this straight: the preferred preposition for the night as an independent time expression is AT. At night. At night. We can use “By night” when we use it to talk about activities that contrast with those from a different time of the day. E.G.: “My uncle is a spiritual advisor by day and a male stripper by night”. So we are going to set this preposition down on the timeline.

At night

After that, we’ll take the longer parts of the day. Since there are so many activities that we can do at these times, so many things we can fit in, why, the preposition we will use for the morning, the afternoon and the evening is IN. Notice how we usually use the expression “In the morning” rather than “In morning”, as it sounds awful. So, we’ll place that in our diagram here.

In the

Finally, for the short parts of the day we’ll use AT. At dawn, at sunrise, at noon, at midday, at dusk, at sunset and at midnight. Why? We can see it this way: these portions of the day are so short that one merely stands in front of them for a little while (just like one stands at the door, at the window, at the age of 31 and so on. Oxymoronic, yes, but it’s a transitory permanence), while one is contained by the long parts of the day, “In the afternoon” (like one is in a room, in Titiribí, in trouble, in the 21st Century). And so we mark it.


Oh, one last thing before I forget! There is another quite useful things and that is what to use when you refer to DAY AND PART: that is a specific day and a part of it. Well, for that we have the preposition ON, i.e.: “On Monday morning, on Tuesday night, On Saturday noon. The same particle is used to mention a day of the week and dates in a calendar as well as festivities: On Thursday, on Mother’s Day, on June 29th. All days of the week in English are capitalized.

Well, that should do it for now. Please share this website with people around you who want to improve their English and those who might be struggling with it. There’s no reason to do it all on your own.


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