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“In school” vs “at school”

I've been writing some rules for an NLP recently, and I've come across a small problem... What is the difference in the use of "in" and "at". For example, you could say "I am in Hawaii right now", however you would (most likely) not say "I am at Hawaii right now".

You might say "I am in school right now" (implying that you are physically within the boundaries of "school"), but you might also say "I am at school right now" (meaning that you could be within school, next to school, or at the concept of school).

Any ideas for what the differences between the two are?

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The Semantics of in, at, and on –  John Lawler Jun 23 '12 at 23:09
    
this one, too: "in work" vs "at work" –  J.R. Jun 24 '12 at 2:10
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marked as duplicate by Jim, Andrew Leach, jwpat7, J.R., simchona Jun 24 '12 at 3:06

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1 Answer

"In school" = a registered pupil, taking lessons. "At school" = a parent visiting the headmaster.

The 'in' is being used in the sense of being in an organisation or club, rather than being in a building. The 'at' is being used for location, in the same sense as being at a friends house.

This is not universal though. Sometimes "at school" is used for a pupil taking lessons, and "at the school" for a parent visiting the headmaster.

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