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When I was a lowly copyboy for a newspaper in the 1970s, I wrote obituaries. My desk editor came to me with a criticism. I had written that the deceased lived "on Nevada Blvd." She threw my copy down and stood on it. "This is 'on'," she said. Standing to the side of the paper she said, "this is 'at'." OK, I can take a hint, from then on I said people lived "at" a certain address. But is that really the rule, or was that just my editor's pet peeve?

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Related and possible duplicates: english.stackexchange.com/q/54251 english.stackexchange.com/q/246 –  tchrist Mar 11 '13 at 18:32
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Can I get feedback as to why this was voted down and how I could improve the question? –  Bruce James Mar 11 '13 at 21:02
    
@BruceJames, I'm as baffled as you. I don't think either of the proposed duplicates is actually a duplicate, and besides, asking a possibly-duplicate question is not grounds for downvoting. –  Marthaª Mar 11 '13 at 21:21
    
@tchrist, both of those are about "in" vs. "on", not about "at". As far as I can see, none of the answers mentions the possibility of "at", either. –  Marthaª Mar 11 '13 at 21:26
    
@Marthaª: Especially so since the earlier questions scored so well. If you gave me the up vote, thanks. I see the down vote is still there, though. :-( –  Bruce James Mar 11 '13 at 21:38
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4 Answers

Using at is well-understood when referring to intersections, e.g. at Broadway and Fiftieth Street, since we are giving a specific location. When there is some primary road understood to be the basis of orientation, the name of that road may be dropped, at least in the U.S. For a local example, in Fairfax County, Virginia outside Washington, D.C., Interstate 66 is the primary expressway. One local might say to another

Sully Road was a bit too far, so now we live at Nutley Street.

with the understanding that the speaker is referring to areas accessed from the Sully Road and Nutley Street exits from I-66.

Otherwise, as you note, I would expect to hear that someone lives on a street in the U.S., or in a street in Britain, but at a specific address in either.

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In my experience there are North American idiomatic prepositions that are used without logical derivation:

  • You live AT an address (I lived at 123 Main Street in the 80s)
  • You live ON a street (The Fishers live on Main Street)
  • You live IN a building, complex, or project (I lived in the Humberly building)

If a specific house has a name (think Bronte sisters) then you might live AT the house (I lived at Greyoaks all my life) but if it's not a single family dwelling (say it's a hotel, or an apartment building) then it's IN.

You also live IN a town, or a named area of town like Nob Hill, and AT an intersection. When areas of town are named after a street, you can get correct sentences like:

  • I lived in The Bridle Path but not on The Bridle Path.

Standing in various positions in front of a desk to try to demonstrate which of these is correct is just nonsensical. No desk standing can explain "on Nevada Blvd" vs "at 123 Nevada Blvd".

Apparently in the UK about 50% of the population say you live IN a street rather than ON it - the rest of the generalizations appear to hold in the UK and in North America. See ON an American street, but IN a British one. Do the twain ever meet?

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But note english.stackexchange.com/questions/54251/… –  choster Mar 12 '13 at 13:50
    
@choster - thanks! I updated my answer –  Kate Gregory Mar 12 '13 at 19:06
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I've always seen "at" used if a specific house number was specified and "on" otherwise.

John Doe lived at 1205 Elm Street.

Johnny lives somewhere on Elm Street.

I'm not a 100% sure though.....

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You live at an address, you live on a street.

You can stand on a street, so I'm not sure why your desk editor thought she was making a point.

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She would tell you that if you live "on" the street, you'll get hit by a car. –  Bruce James Mar 11 '13 at 21:01
    
Well, how would you live "at" a street? –  Joe Z. Mar 12 '13 at 1:58
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