Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I am used to saying "I am in India.". But somewhere I saw it said "I am at Puri (Oriisa)". I would like to know the differences between "in" and "at" in the above two sentences.

share|improve this question
2  
I struggle to think of a context in which I might say "I'm at India". However, I might well say both "I'm at the house" and "I'm in the house", even in the same conversation, depending upon the context. I think that is worth you exploring... –  itsbruce Oct 18 '12 at 9:40
    
If you look at other questions with the preposition tag, you'll find many questions like this. Both prepositions can be used to specify location, as well as others. "I am in China. I am at the Great Wall. Tomorrow I will be on the island." I'm not aware of any one simple rule that will always lead you to the "correct" preposition (although Gulliver's guideline below is a good generality), and sometimes they can be used interchangeably. –  J.R. Oct 18 '12 at 9:49
1  
The rule of thumb is "in" means precise location, "at" means visiting for practical purposes. Taking shelter from rain in the bank, or depositing money at the bank. But there are countless exceptions and caveats. –  SF. Oct 18 '12 at 12:28
    
@itsbruce Well, you might say "I'm at the house" if you are in your house's garden but not indoors, and "I'm in the house" if you're physically within the house. –  Mark Beadles Oct 18 '12 at 14:25
    
possible duplicate of When do we use “arrive at” versus “arrive in”? –  Matt Эллен Oct 18 '12 at 15:22

7 Answers 7

There are many answers for this, but looking at the dictionary we get:

at: In or near the area occupied by; in or near the location of

in: Within the limits, bounds, or area of

People are usually using in to note a general location and at for a more specific location.

I'm in the building, at the front desk

I'm in New York, at the conference

I'm in New York, at the Empire State Building

EDIT: But note also the difference when in is used to indicate inside

I'm in the elevator = I'm inside the elevator

I'm at the elevator = I'm near the elevator

share|improve this answer
3  
I am on the planet Earth in the United States on the East coast in New York City on the Lower East Side in a commercial district on a street in a building at a desk in a chair. Yeah, "at" seems pretty specific. –  Ben Lee Jul 12 '13 at 18:50
    
Ben Lee illustrates two important points: "on" is an additional preposition for identifying location, and idiom trumps sense, with sometimes-alternating in's and on's cascading ever closer to the focal point. At may commonly be used with more tightly defined locations, but not all locations can enclose a person. One is commonly at a desk in a chair, and rarely at a desk at a chair, but never in a desk (with or without a chair) unless a contortionist or the victim of the sort of crime found mainly in cheap fiction. –  Joan Pederson Feb 5 at 0:59

When talking about location, in is generally used for a larger area where there are numerous specific locations possible

I am in the United States.
I am in New York.
I am in the Chelsea neighborhood.
I am in my backyard.

The preposition at is generally used for a specific location or thing.

I am at the intersection of Hollywood and Vine [streets].
I am at the Empire State Building.
I am at my hotel.
I am at home.
I am at the old oak tree in my yard.

However, the above at usage is indifferent to whether you are indoors or outdoors. You could be on the street in front of your hotel or inside. You could be in your yard at home or in the bathroom at home.

If you want to convey that you are indoors at a specific location, you would use in

I am in the Empire State Building.
I am in my hotel.
I am in my home.

The above conventions reflect an American usage which may or may not be similar in other English speaking countries.

share|improve this answer

In can always used to describe location in a country: in India, in the United States, in Japan. In is also used with cities: in Delhi, in Washington, in Tokyo, but in some contexts, at may also be found. It has long been the practice, for example, to speak of ‘Her Majesty’s Ambassador at [name of capital]’. That practice may continue in Indian English. If so, it would explain at Puri, but in an international context it will normally be safer to use in for most geographical locations.

share|improve this answer

Well, I really find this interesting.

  • in is used to describe a general location which is large in context, whether indoor or outdoor.
  • at describes a specific location.

For instance, I could say:

  • I live at № 29 D’alberto Road in Lagos.
  • D’alberto Road is just a small area in Lagos.
share|improve this answer

Something missing from the other answers posted so far, I feel, is that at is appropriate where there is an expectation of or potential for travel away from the location, or where it's important to distinguish it from other potential locations. So if somebody asked where I was, I might say

I'm at the house

if I'd been at other locations that day and expected only to be there for a while (especially if the other person knew this). Similarly, I might say

I'm at the hotel.

For slightly different reasons, I'd say

I'm at the Hilton Hotel

to distinguish it from the other potential hotels.

In the house or hotel is more appropriate in other contexts but I"m not going to examine those exhaustively right now.

share|improve this answer

"At" is generally used for smaller, specific locations, like at home, at work, at Starbucks, at Comicon.

"In" is used for larger areas, like countries, towns, cities...

The at Puri example is non-standard. It's possible that the speaker was saying something like at [the XYZ in] Puri, using Puri as an abbreviation. That's my guess, anyway.

share|improve this answer

When we are talking about location which is larger than other places, we use in. For example:

in London
in New York
in Kabul

And when we're talking about a place which is general in meaning, we use at. For example:

at school
at home
at work

share|improve this answer
1  
But "Puri" is not general in meaning. In fact, it is exceptionally specific. Also, absolutely any location "is larger than other places", including homes and schools. –  RegDwigнt Jan 8 at 14:56
    
Since you are never actually in Kabul, it's better to use at. –  Noah Jan 8 at 15:01

protected by tchrist Jul 23 at 3:20

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.