There are some very commonly used statements where we always use "at"to refer to the location of something or someone and never use "in". Here are some examples:

When you stay at a hotel on the beach you are literally on the beach when you walk out of the beach side of your hotel.

Tips for keeping the weight off for good. Here are a few tips to help you stay at your goal weight: Don't go overboard.

She prefers to stay at home.

My question "is it because of some rules of grammar rules that these sentences follow "or "just because the native speakers say it that way"??

  • Related: When do we use 'arrive at' versus 'arrive in'? (and many others. I'm not sure that any explore the reasons for the preference of one over the other in individual cases, but broadening locative or container metaphors are involved in the explanation of why a choice is justified.) Apr 7, 2020 at 14:48
  • 1
    Grammar follows speech rather than the other way. Apr 7, 2020 at 14:53
  • The prepositions that are required by a particular verb, noun, or adjective are usually meaningless, or close. So one listens to or looks at something, and the difference between to and at is irrelevant, because both prepositions are only a way to convert an intransitive sense verb into a transitive one. Just another piece of machinery. Apr 7, 2020 at 15:45

1 Answer 1


As John Lawler says in a comment, the choice of preposition is often arbitrary and ideosyncratic. But I think there are some common patterns.

in is usually used when you want to emphasize your position being inside something. So you sleep in your bedroom. If you get arrested, you're put in jail.

at is more commonly used when you're talking about a place, but not treating it as a container that you're specifically inside. When you're at home you can be inside the house, or gardening in the yard, etc. When you're at a hotel you can be in your room, or outside in the pool, etc. (notice that I switched to "in" for all the spaces associated with home and the hotel).

at is also used for conceptual places. "home" is conceptual, while "house" is physical, so you're at home but in your house. And this applies for figurative places like a goal weight (but on the other hand, you're in good health -- as I said, it's ideosyncratic).


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