What is the difference between in work and at work? Does in work imply that the person is busy and immersed in his work?

I am at work.

He is in work.

  • In what context?
    – user20934
    Jun 13, 2012 at 10:22
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    possible duplicate of "In school" vs "at school" Jun 13, 2012 at 10:33
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    @Matt Well, not really. For whatever reason, the idioms are different.
    – Jay
    Jun 13, 2012 at 15:54

5 Answers 5


"In work" means I have a job. I might not be there currently, but I have employment. "At work" means I am currently doing my job, or at least on the premises of my job.

  • So if we say: he is bored at work. Does it mean he is bored working? And if we say: he is bored in work. Means that he is bored with his job, right?
    – Noah
    Jun 13, 2012 at 10:43
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    @Noah - "bored in work" would not be used. More likely "bored with his job". It does not make sense to say that someone is bored with the reality of actually having a job, even though they may be bored with the particular job they have. Jun 13, 2012 at 10:55
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    There might be a regionalism here. As an American, I've never heard someone say "in work" meaning they have a job. We'd say "he's employed" or "he has a job" or "he's working". The last being potentially ambiguous depending on context: it could also mean he is engaged in work at this moment.
    – Jay
    Jun 13, 2012 at 13:32
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    @Jay: I'll agree, here in the U.S., I don't hear "in work" to mean "employed" all that often – but using "out of work" to convey the opposite is relatively common.
    – J.R.
    Jun 13, 2012 at 13:55

I upvoted a comment yesterday that I believe is worthy of repeating:

Prepositions are notoriously fickle in how they're paired with verbs (in many languages, not just English).

Indeed, in work can mean exactly what you said:

The designers were so immersed in work that they didn't even notice they had toiled through their lunch hour.

But in work can be used in many other contexts as well:

Involvement in work has brought major changes in the lifestyle of several of our respondents.” (L. Gulati)

Contentment in work is likewise necessary for a sense of individual well-being.” (Lifchez & Winslow)

To some extent, each individual defines self in terms of what that individual does in work.” (Gould & Smith)

Equally, some of those people who are in work look enviously at those who are not in work.” (House of Commons Parliament debate, 1985)

At work is similar, in that there are several possible nuances:

He stayed at work until seven o'clock.1

There are men at work on the roadside.

People have a higher risk of injury at work than at home.

and even:

The designers were so engaged at work that they didn't even notice they had toiled through their lunch hour.

1Interestingly enough, this one could mean "He stayed working until 7:00" or "He stayed at his place of employment until 7:00."


An American would be very unlikely to say, "He's in work."

"He is at work" usually means he is presently at his place of employment. It can also mean he is presently engaged in work. Like if someone is at home but doing something related to his job, and an interruption comes along, he might say, "I'm at work -- tell them to call back later".

I can't think of a general rule or pattern for when you would use "in work". It is almost always used with a verb like "engaged" and some sort of descriptive phrase to describe the work. Like, "He is engaged in dangerous work", or "He is tied up in work that is very tedious and boring."


from the Longman Language Activator:

be in work [British]: to have a job - use this when you are comparing someone who has a job with other people who do not have jobs

She was the only one in the family to be in work.

be at work: to be doing your job at the place you work, especially at a factory, office etc owned by your employer

What time do you have to be at work?

As you can see, "to be in work" is not a common idiom in American English.


The idiom "in work" is quite common in the aerospace industry, and is often heard in space-to-ground and space-to-space radio transmissions, e.g. "Step 2 on the post-docking checklist is complete, and step 3 is in work." Astronauts with a task IN work are usually hard AT work.

  • I have also seen this usage at engineering companies. Mar 27, 2014 at 13:55

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