in city / at town

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Ptak, Jun 19, 2008.

  1. Ptak Senior Member

    Moskau
    Rußland
    As I remember from my teacher's explanation, there's a rule in English (but it's probably wrong, as someone told me recently):
    If the case in point is a large city, like New York, London, or Moscow, or maybe a little smaller cities, one uses the preposition "in": in New York, in Moscow.
    But, if the case in point is a small town, one should use the preposition "at" instead.

    I know it, it maybe wrong, so I just wanted to clarify this question for myself...
    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    This is not a rule in AE.
    In the city
    In Chicago
    In town
    All are correct, and substituting "at" for "in" would not work, no matter how small the town.
     
  3. Melz0r Senior Member

    Suffolk, England
    English, England
    I've never seen this rule in action, so I'd query its existence. I live in a county which doesn't have a city, and in every place I know, even the tiniest of hamlets (tiny villages), we use "in".
     
  4. Ptak Senior Member

    Moskau
    Rußland
    Yes, I know that "in town" is correct, it supposed just that at + town's name was correct... For example, "at Kostroma" (a small town in Russia).
     
  5. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    There is no such rule at all. I can certainly think of myself referring to a tiny village with "in", for example
    The only doctor for miles is Doctor Smith, whose house is in Miniville.

    It is also entirely possible to use "at" to refer to enormous cities, as in the way branches of state universities are commonly named in the United States: the University of Illinois at Chicago; the University of Texas at Dallas, etc.

    Your teacher is therefore mistaken.
     
  6. Ptak Senior Member

    Moskau
    Rußland
    Understood, thank you all very much.
     
  7. cyberpedant

    cyberpedant Senior Member

    North Adams, MA
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Interesting! Yes, one might say something like "The battle took place at Kostroma." But if we were having a glass of vodka, we'd have it in Kostroma.
     
  8. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    Well, Google produces just over 1,000 "hits" for "at Little Eaton". Little Eaton is a village in Derbyshire with a population of about 3,000.
     
  9. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English

    It also produces more than 6,000,000 hits for "at London". I am not sure of your point.
     
  10. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    In recent years I have frequently heard newscasters on CNN saying 'at' instead of 'in' when referring to cities, which to my ear is completely wrong. I have also heard it used in weather forecasts on the same channel. As far as I am concerned you can never use 'at' with a place name (city, town, village) except as in the example given by cyberpedant.
     
  11. GreenWhiteBlue

    GreenWhiteBlue Senior Member

    New York
    USA - English
    Have you told the University of Texas, or the University of Illinois, or the University of Colorado? They might disagree...:)

    If I am not mistaken, the use of "at" is also traditional in, for example, translations of the Roman Martyrology.

    One also finds it in Shakespeare. For example, in Richard II, King Henry says
    I would to God, my lords, he might be found:
    Inquire at London, 'mongst the taverns there
     
    Last edited: Jun 19, 2008
  12. Porteño Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    British English
    I'm afraid I am not familiar with such an animal!:D
     
  13. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England

    OK, I'll spell it out. The 6,000,000 hits for "at London" include expressions of the type "Chaos at London Fashion Show". A quick look at the first ten of the thousand hits for "at Little Eaton" reveals a majority to be of the type "Swans seen on canal at Little Eaton", which is the type of usage enquired about by Ptak in post #1. The point is that it is clear from Google that plenty of people see nothing wrong with "at Little Eaton". I would not go so far as to say, as the teacher quoted in that post does, that "at" should be used with the names of small places. I merely wanted to say that a lot of people, myself among them, do not regard the use of "at" in such a situation as unusual.
     
  14. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I wonder ... ...
    Some time ago we had a thread about trains or buses.
    Did the train stop in or at Pongoville?
    And I think there was a kind of general tendency for trains to stop at small places and in large places.

    Now, where was the thread?

    Here's one -
    This train stops in/at Paris, in/at Smallville?
    - another -
    the train stops at/in
     
  15. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I think trains are a particular case, Panj. A station announcer will say "The train at platform three calls at Birmingham New Street, Cheltenham Spa, (etc)", but if I were walking along a Birmingham street and somebody asked me, on my mobile phone, "Where are you?", I would say "I'm in Birmingham", because Birmingham is a big place.
     
  16. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    You're right - I was distracted and forgot to finish the point :)
    I don't think I would say "I'm at ..." referring to a town, no matter how small. It would always be "I'm in ...".

    I wonder if Ptak's teacher's explanation (post #1) was about buses and trains.
     
  17. Ptak Senior Member

    Moskau
    Rußland
    Oh no :)
     
  18. Packard

    Packard Senior Member

    USA, English
    I think "at" is used if you are suggesting that something is somehow "attached" to a locality.

    So the "train stops at Birmingham" would indicate that the train is going through or temporarily "attached" to Birmingham.

    The same goes for Universities "at", you are indicating that they are "attached" to the city.

    We also have "battles of..." and "battles at..." for the same reason. The city or locality is given as a "location" and not to indicated that they are a part of the city. So the Battle of Gettysburg is not about being in Gettysburg, but rather it is about a specific battle and its location. (A subtle difference, I guess, but the same battle would have the same importance if it were at another location just 5 miles away; it is about the battle and not the location.)
     
  19. CapnPrep Senior Member

    France
    AmE
    This question comes up periodically, for example:
    Why ''at' instead of ''in''?
    Preposition: I live <at, in> Barcelona.
    "in" vs. "at" (for different cities) (in the All Languages forum)

    I think it's useful (even for native speakers) to know that in the preposition at was correctly used for small towns, and even for large cities in some situations. For example, grammars from the 18th and 19th centuries give the following advice (e.g. here, Grammar part IV rule XIII, and here, vol. 1, pp. 203–4):

    • In is used for cities and large towns: He lives in London, or in Birmingham.
    • At is used for villages, and for cities in distant countries: He lives at Hackney, at Highgate. He resides at Montpelier, at Vienna.
    • At is generally used after the verb to be and other "neuter verbs": I have been at London. I shall be at Paris. He lives at Portsmouth.
    It's obviously a good idea to recommend using in for all towns and cities in current English. But we should avoid telling people that their textbooks and teachers are simply wrong, because they will eventually encounter this usage in older texts, as well as in common fixed phrases and in literary/ceremonial language.
     
  20. redgiant Senior Member

    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Is "a helicopter has arrived at a specific location" also used in the same way as "a train has arrived at a specific location"? I vaguely remember there's a similar thread in which someone points out that it's not unusual to say "the rescue helicopter ferrying fed safe food supplies to local residents has arrived at Hong Kong".
     

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