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What’s the difference between “to be in use” and “to be at use”?

I have impression that former states that something is being used, while the latter means something proves to be useful — the same as “to be of use”.

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The phrase to be at use is not currently in use. Where did you see this phrase? – Peter Shor Sep 3 '12 at 17:17
@Peter: I would have said the same thing, but Google does show some instances of "be at use". For example: Such technology could be at use in a secret space program, that runs parallel to NASA – GEdgar Sep 3 '12 at 17:22
@GEdgar: it looks to me like the Google hits for "be at use" which aren't part of two different phrases are thinkos/typos for either "be in use" or "be of use" (I see both meanings among the Google hits, and I can imagine making this mistake by incompletely revising some text). – Peter Shor Sep 3 '12 at 17:27
@GEdgar ... probably you forget that NASA receives messages in strange languages from distant planets ... – Elberich Schneider Sep 3 '12 at 17:33
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I believe these are confusing because of the involved preposition.

To be in use is similar to to be busy, occupied or utilized.

  • I need to use the restroom, but it is in use right now.

To be of use means to be useful, of utility, or helpful.

  • I finally got into the restroom and it is really of use to me.

I struggle to think of examples of to be at use like the one by GEdgar, but I've definitely seen and heard it used. The definition is restricted to to be utilized or used, and it does not mean occupied. I believe in use can be used in place of at use without confusion in these settings. The examples I can think of are rather unique:

  • The electronic record system we are considering is at use currently in several other facilities without problems.
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