"at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

English grammar and usage issues

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"at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

Unread postby sifaka » 31 May 2008, 19:33

We say "at the office","at school", "at 22 Mill Street", but "in school", "in the kitchen", "in the country", "in room 6A", etcetera. How do I explain this to my students? Are there rules for this?

Thanks,

Matt
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Re: "at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

Unread postby jasminade » 04 Jun 2008, 14:58

sifaka wrote:We say "at the office","at school", "at 22 Mill Street", but "in school", "in the kitchen", "in the country", "in room 6A", etcetera. How do I explain this to my students? Are there rules for this?

Thanks,

Matt



Aye it is complicated. I like to draw pictures (that honestly I found in a grammar book somewhere). Draw a box and put a stick figure inside it to show "in". "At" is complicated. It means to me an exact place.

I am sorry but the only way to teach this is to speak it! All of the time. Prepositions in English are so complicated for our learners.
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Re: "at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

Unread postby matthau » 12 Jun 2008, 13:59

First of all, these prepositions are used differently in BrE and AmE.
e.g. He is at college. (BrE) (=He is a student)
He is in college. (AmE) (= He is a student)

In BrE usage 'in' gives the idea of an object inside some space, and 'at' - the idea of functional interraction between an object and the space it is placed in.
e.g. She is at the theatre now. (She is watching a performance)
She is in the theatre now. (She is inside the building)

There are a lot of other differences, of course. This is a sophisticated topic.
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English prepositions

Unread postby systematic » 18 Jun 2008, 15:24

As Matthau says, there are some important differences between AE and BE and an EFL teacher should make the students aware of them.

In British English at and in can have very different meanings:

He is at the hospital would mean that he is there on business or visiting a patient or being treated in the outpatients' department.etc.

He is at hospital (without the definite article), would mean that he is there for a longer stay as a patient.

More confusing in English are at and to - try explaining them for example to a French student whose language only has à, or to a German who has several including zu and nach - with of course a whole host of case inflections. Even more difficult is explaining to students whose native tongues don't even have prepositions!
I devised a method of teaching this many years ago which leaves the students - kids or adults - in stitches, and they never forget :mrgreen:
I offer any information or advice 'as is' and hope that it has been of help. I am not an admin of this board, and my postings do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board management.
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Re: "at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

Unread postby Chopvac » 27 Jun 2008, 22:30

sifaka wrote:We say "at the office","at school", "at 22 Mill Street", but "in school", "in the kitchen", "in the country", "in room 6A", etcetera. How do I explain this to my students? Are there rules for this?

Thanks,

Matt


The rule of thumb I tell my students is that nearly all locations can be described with "at", but that only enclosed locations are described with "in", though what "enclosed" means can also be tenuous. Examples:

I am at home. <- Home is not a building, it is a location.
I am in the house. <- A house has four walls.

He is at the pool. <- He is where the swimming pool is.
He is in the pool. <- He is in the water.

We are at the park. <- We are at the location of the part.
We are in the park. <- We are within its boundaries.

She is at school. <- She is at the location.
She is at the school. <- Same as above.
She is in school. <- She is taking lessons.
She is in the school. <- She is inside the building.
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Re: "at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

Unread postby systematic » 28 Jun 2008, 01:55

We say "at the office","at school", "at 22 Mill Street", but "in school", "in the kitchen", "in the country", "in room 6A", etcetera. How do I explain this to my students? Are there rules for this?

The rules are those of usage rather than grammatical. In this instance you must first decide whether you are an American or a British speaker, and what your students require.

It is of course absolutely necessary to make the clear distinction between AmE and BrE when teaching in foreign countries. Good teachers will do this. Brits are fairly flexible about the use of English, but Americans tend to be more insistent upon correct use of their version of the language.

The rule of thumb I tell my students is that nearly all locations can be described with "at", but that only enclosed locations are described with "in", though what "enclosed" means can also be tenuous.
Examples:

She is at school. <- She is at the location. Chiefly BRITISH
She is at the school. <- Same as above. Chiefly AMERICAN
She is in school. <- She is taking lessons. Chiefly AMERICAN
She is in the school. <- She is inside the building.

She is at the school. <- Same as above*. Chiefly BRITISH
*Note how the context is important.

Ultralingua Dictionaries include a AmE / BrE usage reference section.
Get more help with American English & British English
I offer any information or advice 'as is' and hope that it has been of help. I am not an admin of this board, and my postings do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board management.
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Re: "at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

Unread postby Krisha » 30 Nov 2008, 08:29

Another example is:
She was in London at Oxford Universiy.

She was at location of London but within the boundaries of Oxford University.
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Re: "at" a place as contrasted with "in" a place

Unread postby Peter Easton » 01 Dec 2008, 15:08

Something that has always puzzled me is whether this is non-standard:

'The cafe is at the second floor.'

Can someone please enlighten me?
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