It is written everywhere that the person is "at " work. He is "at" work. So why we can't use "on" instead of "at" there? We use on Monday ,on Tuesday etc I know this is the rule but what if we use "on" work. Why it is wrong?

  • The preposition "at" is typically used to denote a location (a specific position) where it takes a noun phrase as object complement, as in "at the dentist", at "school", It's the same with "at work" where locative "at" has noun "work" as its complement. – BillJ Nov 5 '16 at 14:07
  • @Alan - in the park vs at the park might be a duplicate of Meaning 1, but that question doesn't touch on Meaning 2, i.e.: working [at something]; busy [with something]. (See also at play ). – J.R. Nov 6 '16 at 21:05
  • @J.R. If you think that the OP is inquiring about Meaning 2, you're in the minority. But I guess you could ask them if that's what they had in mind. That might be easier than writing multiple comments pointing out Meaning 2. – Alan Carmack Nov 7 '16 at 1:45
  • @Alan - I don't think the OP is asking about Meaning 2 or Meaning 1. I think they are simply asking about the phrase in general, and I think both meanings are deserving of attention. – J.R. Nov 7 '16 at 10:25
  • @Aryendu When you say at work, are you referring to at work as a preposition of place. In other words, Joe is not at home, he is at work? – Alan Carmack Nov 7 '16 at 17:57

I am afraid that, as with most "why" question about language, the whole of the answer is:

Because that's how English is.

There is no other answer.

  • 1
    Why the downvote? This is correct, and there really is nothing else to be said on the matter. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 5 '16 at 13:50
  • Ground reality actually. – Aryendu Kumar Nov 5 '16 at 13:53
  • 2
    This ignores general rules that can describe preposition usage. It's not entirely arbitrary. – chepner Nov 5 '16 at 14:01
  • @chepner If you think there are general rules that can describe preposition usage in English, you are wrong. They are not general rules. More often than not, they are random rules that can only be explained using the word coincidence. I think this post answers the question. – user24743 Nov 6 '16 at 18:48

In this case, the distinction arises because "work" is a physical location, while "Monday" is a point in time.

In general, the correct preposition to use is often determined by subtle distinctions in the "category" of the thing the preposition operates on. For instance, "small" units of time tend to take "on", while "large" units of time take "in":

  • The clock chimes on the hour.
  • I will go to work on Monday.
  • I went to the beach in July.
  • I will go to Europe in 2017.

For physical locations, we use "in", "on", or "at" (among other possibilities), depending on what the location is.

  • I am in the store. (Emphasizing the physical structure of the store.)
  • I am at the store. (Emphasizing that you are in one place rather than somewhere else.)
  • I am at work. ("Work" is an idea, not necessarily any specific place.)
  • I work in an office. (An office is indoors.)
  • I work on a construction site. (A construction site is typically outdoors.)

And just to reassure you that English is not completely logical, you can use at with either of the last two sentences. Sometimes, a language just accepts some usage as correct while rejecting others.

  • But the clock chimes at seven o'clock. – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 5 '16 at 14:15
  • I thought of that, too. I wonder if "on" was a bad example here, or at least my small/large was the wrong rule to describe. Another rule(?) might be "use at for a single time, but use on for a single date"? – chepner Nov 5 '16 at 14:35
  • This describes only one usage of "at work," and doesn't account for, say, the street sign "Men at Work", which describes an action, not a location. Similarly, I can say, "The cancer researchers are hard at work on a cure," and not be referring to where they are analyzing their lab tests. – J.R. Nov 6 '16 at 21:01

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