Are both expressions

  • "At the beginning"
  • "In the beginning"

valid and equivalent? The first "seems wrong" to me, but it has more Google results.


6 Answers 6


They are valid but not interchangeable. I think the most important difference is that "in the beginning" seems to be an expression describing a whole period of time, while "at the beginning" more literally describes a single moment in time, similar to the difference between saying "in the morning" and "at 8 a.m."

Compare your question to "in the end" versus "at the end." "In the end" is an idiom synonymous with "ultimately." There's a clear distinction. I think the same can be said for "in the beginning"/"at the beginning."


"In the beginning" are the three words that open the Book of Genesis in the Bible. For Christians, the phrase conveys that additional sense of an origination.

"At the beginning" by itself just sounds incomplete to my ear. At the beginning of what?

  • Given the religious context I'm surprised "in..." is not the one to have more Google results.
    – Eran
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 21:51
  • 4
    +1. To me "In the beginning" only recalls that use (which is not known just to Christians, by the way). I would not use the phrase unless I was deliberately inviting associations with the Creation.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Apr 10, 2011 at 22:46

Firstly, the [pedantic] interpretation of those phrases probably differs between locations and cultures (American English as opposed to British English etc').

Personally, it seems to me that "in the beginning" refers to time and "at the beginning" refers to placement. Often they might be casually interchanged with a figurative allusion to the other meaning.

For example: "at the beginning of the book" ,IMHO, emphasizes more the place [physically] (first pages/chapter etc') while "in the beginning of the book" emphasizes more that it's early relevant to what is happening in the book.

For most uses, I think using 'at' sounds better and I'd be more likely to use it, whether according to what I wrote here or less pedantically.


In the beginning is usually preferred alone and followed by a comma. But at the beginning is used together with a noun such as year, book, century, show ..etc.. ;) E.g. In the beginning, God created (etc...) At the beginning OF TIME, God created


At the beginning of the book ...

At the beginning of the semester ...

At the beginning of my speech ...

These are all fine and unremarkable.


Ive always thought that when using phrases like these, it's better to use "in" when referring to time, and "at" when referring to a place. :) But I could be wrong. However, "at" could also be correct because technically, "At the beginning of my answer..." could be considered a "place in time". So I believe they are both valid ways of saying it.

  • 3
    Well, let’s see. I would probably say: in the morning, in December, in 1943, in Guatemala, in Istanbul, at three o’clock, at that time, at the White House, on Tuesday, on an island, on Mars. There may be some patterns here, but it clearly isn’t quite as simple as “in=time, at=place”. Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 7:57
  • 1
    @JasonOrendorff Don't you think that the difference between 'in' and 'at' is mainly to do with precision. We would say "In Washington at the Lincoln Memorial" or "In the morning at 11:42" where Washington and the morning are less less precise specifications that the memorial or the time. We also use "in" with precision when we are speaking about enclosed spaces so we say "In the Oval Office" but that's using in normally. "On" is mainly just a preposition (on an island, on Mars) but we also use it for intermediate precision but only with time. "In May, on the 24th, at 10:57"
    – BoldBen
    Commented Oct 8, 2018 at 9:17

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