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I'd appreciate a clarification on when it would be best to complete this sentence with "at" and when with "in".

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Your question might be a better fit for the English Language Learners Stack Exchange site than here. –  tchrist Feb 24 '13 at 21:28
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closed as too localized by J.R., Carlo_R., Brian Hooper, tchrist, kiamlaluno Feb 25 '13 at 13:57

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2 Answers

Whether you should say “Mr. Dill works at a big library” or “Mr. Dill works in a big library” depends on what the facts are and your intended emphasis. If Mr. Dill is a librarian who works inside the library, either form can be used with little difference in meaning and no difference in grammaticality. If Mr. Dill is a groundskeeper who works for the library but outside it, I'd say at, not in, because it is misleading to say that he works in the library.

In the example sentence, you can use any of the prepositions at, in, or for, with the same meanings for most employees. If you want to emphasize who Mr. Dill works for, use for or at, not in. If you want to emphasize where Mr. Dill works, use in, inside, or outside.

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I felt as though "Mr. Dill (is a librarian that) works in a big library, from 8 in the morning until 4 o'clock in the afternoon." was just as good as using "at" but wasn't really sure. p.s. Thanks for the input. –  Anon8889 Feb 24 '13 at 22:08
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One works at a place, not in it. That’s why we say that someone is at work, not that they are in work. One always works at a business. Oh sure, you might say that someone is “in” real estate, but that’s different.

This is true even if you name a specific building, like saying that someone works at the the Sears Tower or at the downtown library or at the customs house. These are all always at, never in.

Only if you were talking about a specific physical building and specifically contrasting working outside from working inside might you ever any occasion to use in, and even then you would need more supporting contextual orientation.

Really, the place where you use in is for cities, states, or countries. He works in Chicago, not at Chicago. But it would then be at the Sears Tower, and for this-or-that business there. But don’t get carried away with the for; people can work “at” a business, too.

Similarly, someone can work at CERN, but in Geneva. Even if you knew the particular building, it would never be in, only at.

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What about: "Mr. Dill works in a theater as a light-smith"? p.s. thanks for the input. –  Anon8889 Feb 24 '13 at 20:08
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@Anon8889 'Lighting designer' or 'lighting technician' or 'electrician'. And he works in the theatre, which is the field (The Profession, we theatre people say), but at a particular theatre (probably several, since only a handful of theatres offer techs full-time year-round employment). –  StoneyB Feb 24 '13 at 20:21
    
@Anon8889 No, that would be wrong. It really does have to be at there. –  tchrist Feb 24 '13 at 20:33
    
It's not as clear cut as that. Grissom works in this laboratory is acceptable. Sue works in a department store (works in a department store scores more Google hits than works at a department store). Cheever works in the Pentagon. And Fred works on the market (for an outside market, at least) is preferable in the North of England. –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 24 '13 at 23:54
    
@tchrist There seems little difference in preferences between US and UK usages, if one may risk a crude Google-hit comparison: works at a theater :430 // works in a theater :1610 // works at a theatre :346 // works in a theatre :2190 –  Edwin Ashworth Feb 25 '13 at 9:57
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