Preposition: ... <at, in> <the> school.

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Whodunit, Jul 8, 2005.

  1. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    กรุงเทพมหานคร
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    This question is a very interesting one for me because I used the expressions with "school" from patterns until now, but now I want you to suggest me when to use which expression. Where's the difference between:

    in school
    at school
    in the school
    at the school

    ???

    I used Google to learn things from patterns, and here's my result:

    in school (I would have used "in schools")
    at school (I would have used "in schools" as well)
    in the school (I would have used "at school")
    at the school (I would have used "in school")

    I know that we use the definite article before school where we are referring to a specific school, e.g. "I'm going to the King George High School". But I don't get the different meanings of all the other ones. :confused:

    Could you provide some examples in additon, please?
     
  2. Amityville

    Amityville Senior Member

    France
    English UK
    Examples.
    Why isn't Jane at home ? She's at school.
    Is Jane working yet ? No, she's in school.
    Where is the local polling station ? It's at the school.

    "In the school". I don't use this one.

    I believe AE and BE may be different in respect of school.

    PS Afterthought. Where would you find the headmaster ? In the school, of course.
     
  3. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    As Amityville's examples demonstrate, you drop the article and say at school, in school (or to school) if you want to talk about school in an abstract way.
    Saying that Johnny is at the school tells you where he is.
    Saying that Johnny is at school tells you what he's doing.

    My favourite example of this (using to) is with kids who are homeschooled. You can say, for example:
    Johnny goes to school at home (Meaning Johnny receives his education at home).

    In contrast:
    Nelson's father has to go to the school each week to explain his son's behaviour to the headmaster. (Nelson's father is not receiving an education, but goes physically to his son's school.)

    So, in the examples you give:
    Helping children succeed in school = Helping children succeed in their education.
    In the school = What children can learn about marine life in the classroom (as opposed to at the aquarium).
    Bullying at school = bullying between school pupils
    At the school = that aspect of the company's work that takes place on location, on the school premises.
     
  4. jacinta Senior Member

    California
    USA English
    Very good, Aupick! Couldn´t have said it better myself.
     
  5. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    กรุงเทพมหานคร
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Ok, then when I say "I'm at school" I mean "I'm taking an exam at school (for instance)", right? But when I say "I'm at the school" then I'm referring to my location, ok?

    So "go to school" always means "receive education (anywhere)" and "to be at school" means "I'm doing something at school right now". Did I get it?

    That one is completely clear to me.

    Well, that makes sense to me. You can't guess how much I thank you. Thank you very very much, Aupick. :)

    (Well done, my teacher! :D)
     
  6. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod Chicken

    Arizona
    American English
    Your question about "in schools" -- this is to describe something that is generally happening in all schools or in the field of education.

    Hope this helps.
     
  7. jess oh seven

    jess oh seven Senior Member

    Scotland
    UK/US, English
    in school - i am inside the school as a student, learning, right now. OR i am a student, i do not have a job, and this is what i do in general. eg. "what do you do?" "oh, i'm still in school".

    at school - more or less the same as "in school".

    in the school - inside the school for reasons other than learning/studying

    at the school - same as "in the school" more or less, but you could be outside.


    more or less... it's difficult to explain.
     
  8. jacinta Senior Member

    California
    USA English
    If I were to call home from school, I would say:
    I'm still at school; I'll be home at 5:00.

    So, at school to me means the location of being at the school where I work.

    Children learn the basic educational subjects in school. The school my son attends offers many outside activities that they don't offer in school.
    "In school" tells me that it is during school hours when school is (classes are) in session.
    I can't talk to you now because I'm in school (I'm working. Classes are in session.)

    They offer hot lunches at school but he prefers a bag lunch.

    They are having a carnival at the school today. (refering to an activity outside of school hours)

    Just more to add to your understanding :)
     
  9. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    กรุงเทพมหานคร
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Well, thank you all so much for having answered my "a bit difficult to answer" question. I knew it is a choice by feel, but I just wanted to have some examples and patterns. Now I have them, so thank you very much.
     
  10. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    I agree with every other sentence, and this one is fine too, but in this case I might also say, talking to someone on a cell phone:

    I can't talk to you now because I'm at school (I'm working. Classes are in session.)

    I'm mentioning this because I had already explained to Who that it's VERY difficult in some instances to pick on or the other.

    I wanted to contrast this with this:

    "Our children are still in school and have two more years to go."

    In this case it could only be "in". Here "in school" means "attending school" as opposed to either having left school or having dropped out. :)

    Gaer
     
  11. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    I think you have it, but let me enlarge:

    "I'm at the school that is directly across the street from McDonald's on 1st Ave. Can you pick me up there?"

    (Probably you would be in front of the school, but that would be clear, and you would be describing the location of the school at which are located.
    Yes and no.

    I go to school every day at 7 AM. (By 8 AM you will be at school.)

    I'm going to school tomorrow one your early. (Same idea.)

    BUT:

    I can't work a full-time job because I'm still going to school.

    I go to school, so I can't work during the week before 5 PM.

    (Now it has the meaning you are talking about, Who…) :)

    I think this is terribly difficult and confusing!

    Gaer
     
  12. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Amazingly, there seems to be general consensus in this thread.
    So I have picked at it, and I found a little bit that unravels, for me.

    Not so.
    The general usage here would definitely be "at school".

    Parents with children at school ...... is the BE norm.
    Parents with children in school ..... sounds strange to me, but is perhaps the AE norm?

    In fact, reflecting on this, "in school" really sounds strange to me in all contexts?
     
  13. jacinta Senior Member

    California
    USA English
    Yes, I agree. You could say this, too. I suppose if a mindless person who didn't know my schedule were to call me during school hours, I would say, "I can't talk. I'm in class now."

    Boy! All these ins and ats. I think it must be a tough one to get.
     
  14. johnL Senior Member

    NC USA
    USA, English
    Panjandrum:
    Parents with children in school... would be normal for AE.
     
  15. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    กรุงเทพมหานคร
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Huh? Would you really think I'll ever say that in all my live? Oh my God, no one would call me during the classes, unless it's someone who really wants to make me angry. And if at all, I won't accept that call. ;)
     
  16. gaer

    gaer Senior Member

    Fort Lauderdale
    US-English
    Imagine you are older and a teacher. :)

    Gaer
     
  17. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    กรุงเทพมหานคร
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Haha, that may be true. Have you ever gotten a call during your classes as a taecher? What scatty friends. :p
     
  18. mjscott Senior Member

    I agree that in school means that you are still matriculated.

    "We will not be taking a vacation this year because my daughter is still in school and we will need to help her with her tuition."

    This does not mean that she is physically at the school--just that she is continuing to take classes.

    Sometimes a family member will call with a question at school. They know that it has to be very important if they are calling me at work--it isn't done unless there is something I need to know before I check my mailbox!

    Whodunit--you never cease to amaze me with your penchant for languages!
     
  19. Whodunit

    Whodunit Senior Member

    กรุงเทพมหานคร
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    Hey, thank you very much for another explanation. Okay, the thing with an important message makes me think about it. ;)

    Besides, you never cease to amaze me with your penchant for answers. :D
     
  20. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    I second the remark about "in school" being the AE norm to denote enrolment. Analogous to the term "at university" or "in hospital" you hear from BE speakers-- jarring to American ears.
     
  21. fredisaking Senior Member

    Taichung, Taiwan
    1. Mandarin Chinese 2. Taiwanese
    Great explanation...how about this one?

    "Mary Hart, student at NYU"

    I saw this the other day and, according to your explanations, it means Mary is physically now doing something at school, like in the classroom. You feel werid?
     
  22. susanna76 Senior Member

    Romanian
    I have a question about "at school"/"at the school" in British English.

    Amityville says:
    Why isn't Jane at home? She's at school.

    But then Aupick says:
    Saying that Johnny is at the school tells you where he is.

    So which one is it when referring to location? (in British English)
     
  23. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Jane is at school.
    It is normal school hours and Jane is attending school.

    Jane is at the school.
    If Jane is a student, it is probably outside normal hours and Jane is at the school for some extra-curricular activity. Perhaps she is rehearsing for the school play.

    Both sentences tell me where Jane is.
     
  24. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    This does not say Mary is at school now but that NYU is her school. When she is at school, she is at NYU. She is in school (she attends school) at NYU.

    NYU is the proper name of an educational institution, and NYU might also refer to that institution's campus. The word school used without an article is not a proper name but a common noun, referring either to a station in life ("in school") or to a place where a person might be found ("at school").
     
  25. susanna76 Senior Member

    Romanian
    Wow, interesting. Now I wonder if the same distinction applies in American English!
     
  26. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    EEUU-inglés
    It does, with a small difference:

    Jane is at school. This can have a more general meaning, telling you both where she is and what she is doing.

    Where is your daughter Jane these days?
    Jane is at school.

    In some contexts, this will mean that she is away at boarding school or college. It gives information about both location and occupation.

     
  27. Pedro y La Torre

    Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    Full version to be found on this page (about half-way down).

    Whilst it is true that Irish English speakers will often use constructions like "in the hospital" too, I always presumed that it was down to American influence.

    Can anyone confirm, or rebut the above hypothesis? It seems an interesting one but I was under the impression that "in the hospital" was part of American speech long before the Irish started emigrating to the U.S. in large numbers.
     
    Last edited: Jan 18, 2010
  28. fenixpollo

    fenixpollo Mod Chicken

    Arizona
    American English
    I can't confirm or rebut this hypothesis, but it is unconvincing to me:
    It's not exactly a scholarly article: there are grammatical and spelling issues, and there are no sources cited. For example, what percentage of native Irish-speakers were schooled by the "British-mandated" system in 1860, as compared with 1880?
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Jan 18, 2010
  29. Pedro y La Torre

    Pedro y La Torre Senior Member

    Paris, France
    English (Ireland)
    I'm not convinced by it either, but it's worth posing the question, if only to have it rebutted.

    State primary education was put in place in Ireland by the British in 1835. Education was generally conducted in English only. Before that, the vast majority of Irish children (and especially Irish-speaking children) either did not go to school, or were educated in ad-hoc "hedge schools".

    English-only education combined with the effects of the Irish famine served to drastically reduce the number of native Irish speakers in the country around the period 1850-1880. It was also around this time, of course, that the Irish started emigrating to the U.S. in large numbers.
     
  30. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    If you say in school when classes are in session and at the school when referring to an activity outside of school hours, why did you use at school in your first sentence? Is that because you weren't talking about an activity? So if you talk about where you are, you say at school; but if you're just talking about where an activity is going to take place, then you say at the school. Is that correct? :confused: Or could you just have said in school instead of at school in your first sentence?
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2012
  31. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Could you guys, please, tell me if I got it all right?

    1) "At the school where one studies or teaches during school hours when school is (classes are) in session" --> both at and in are possible

    Why don't you have the kids with you?
    They're still in/at school. I pick them up at three o'clock.
    [In would be more common in AmE than in BrE, right?]

    2) "A stage of life when one still attends a school" --> both at and in are possible

    What do you do?
    I’m still in/at school.
    [At would be more common in BrE than in AmE, right?]

    3) "In the process of learning" --> both at and in are possible

    She didn’t do very well in/at school. [In would be more common in AmE than in BrE, right?]


    Are at school in in school always "interchangeable"? I mean, is it always a question of dialectal preference?

    Here I have some problematic sentences. Could you help me understand them?

    Their son's at the school near the station. [Could in be used instead of at? Is that boy at that school right now? Does he study there?]
    He is the smartest child in the school. [Why the? Would in school or at school be possible here?]
    I work at/in this school. [I've been told that both in and at are possible here. Is that because of this?]
    There are over 500 students at this school. [Could in be used instead of at?]
    How do I ask someone in my school for weed? [Could at be used instead of in?]
     
  32. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi Ariel

    I can give you an answer from my own (BrE) perspective, but I imagine you speak AmE, so you'll need some further answers:)
    I would expect "at" in all three.
    I'm not 100% sure, but I suspect it is, for "at school"/"in school" - leaving aside the issue that "school" can mean something different in AmE from in BrE.
    I wouldn't normally use "in". The sentence could mean 'that's where he's located right now'. But in most situations, I'd expect it to mean 'that's where he studies'.
    I think it's partly because we usually use "in the X" after a superlative eg the smartest child in the world. But it's also because we're talking about a particular school.
    I could use both "at" and "in" in all of these.
     
  33. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    For me the use of in with school concerns being within boundaries. For example:

    In space (literally within a school building),
    In time (within the part of one's life when one is matriculating),
    In a group (among the students or faculty of an educational institution).

    And the use of at pertains to position. For example:

    At a location (at the school building as a spot on a map, a place to meet),
    Employed (at a job with the institution),
    Attempting (working at achieving a goal).
    Representing (as a member of a team or faculty).

    Of course, I might be leaving something out. :D

    I hope this helps.
     
  34. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Thank you very much, Loob and Forero. It's good to be able to see how things change from one dialect to another.
    Would that be just a matter of preference? Would in be impossible in this context?
    What do you mean? How would at my school be different from in my school in this context?
     
  35. MikeLynn

    MikeLynn Senior Member

    Hi, this thread is great because I've had a real problem with in/at school for a long time and I've leaned a lot here. I've always thought that, in AE, in school meant to be a student from legal, or whatever, point of view and at school was used for being involved in an educational process, being in class, whether the student, or pupil was on a field trip, or anywhere else, but still being educated in some sort of way. However, I've read a few things lately, in grammar books published by Cambridge, that I found a bit confusing because they used IN where I would have expected AT; still AE. Could you possibly tell me how flexible this is? I mean if there are AT/IN situations in AE where these two prepositions are interchangeable. Thank you for your patience, time and for being so helpful.
    M&L
     
  36. MikeLynn

    MikeLynn Senior Member

    I'm really sorry if I missed something, but I sent my post as the last one on page 1; page 2 wasn't there at all. To my surprise I found out there were two pages about a minute later. I've had a lot of trouble with getting to WR lately, I've reported the problem and the only thing I know is that it cannot be my browser because both of my comps behave the same way - trouble loading pages, the pages are almost never loaded completely, missing icons on the left of the page etc. I'm writing this to explain why I might have missed some of the Page 2 information.
    M&L

    This is not a complaint, just an explanation of why I might have missed some of the information on Page 2 of the thread.
     
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2012
  37. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I would feel uncomfortable using in in this context, unless I meant in as referring to a time in one's life. If I heard someone else use in here, I would assume from the context that at was intended and the speaker was perhaps feeling anxious and being incautious with their choice of preposition.
    "Someone at my school" could refer to someone I meet at the school building, which overlaps with one plausible meaning of "someone in my school" (someone within the school building) in this context. And "someone at my school" might also be referring to someone who is employed by the institution.
     
  38. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Jacinta used in in the following sentence. Is that because it means something like "in class" or would you have used at here again?

    I can't talk to you now because I'm in school (I'm working. Classes are in session.)
     
  39. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I would have used at here.
     
  40. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Jacinta used in here again:
    Is that something typical of the dialect spoken in California?
     
  41. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    I should have looked at all of Jacinta's post. That's one meaning of in school that I missed:

    In time (within the part of one's life when one is matriculating or "at school during school hours"),

    In the light of this addtional possible meaning, I don't see this sentence as unnatural.
     
  42. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Then would in be okay for you in my first example?
    I can't understand the contrast between in, at, and at the here:
    It says in school means "at the school where one studies/works during school hours." It also says that at the school can mean "at the school where one studies/works outside of school hours." My question is: then what is the contrast between in school and at school? Why did she use at in the examples in red? Would in be possible in the place of at in those sentences?
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2012
  43. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    Sorry for the confusion.

    I have no trouble with in school here: The school my son attends offers many outside activities that they don't offer in school.

    I accept it here too: I can't talk to you now because I'm in school.

    The first time I read "where one studies or teaches during school hours ...", I imagined it all modified "the school", and the context ("Why don't you have the kids with you?") suggests location (not with you), with a hint of the idea that it is time for kids to be out of school. That is why I said in would not fit.

    But if I rearrange the modifiers and delete "or teaches", I can accept in:

    During school hours when school is (classes are) in session at the school where one studies or teaches:

    Why don't you have the kids with you?
    They're still in school. I pick them up at three o'clock.
    :tick:
    I'll take the sentences one at a time.

    I'm still at school; I'll be home at 5:00. I agree that this at refers to location (not at home) and school with no article refers to the school where I study or teach. With in, this sentence would being saying I am studying at school during school hours.

    I can't talk to you now because I'm in school. This sentence refers to time (not now). With at, it would be referring only to the location. Does it matter whether I am currently studying, or am I hesitant to talk any time I am in the building?

    They offer hot lunches at school but he prefers a bag lunch. This sentence is about location. If it concerns time, it is about lunch time, not about study time. With in, it would seem to be saying they offer hot lunches there at study time.

    They are having a carnival at the school today. This refers to location, irrespective of whether it is study time there for some people.

    Rather than "at school during school hours", I would rather say "in school" can mean at school during study time, i.e. when students ought to be studying. I think it does not refer specifically to class time but it does refer to students' time rather than to the time teachers and other school employees are working.

    I hope this helps.
     
  44. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    It helps a lot. :)

    at school -> at the school where you study or teach
    in school -> at school during study time
    at the school -> ?

    Does the use of the definite article in the following example imply that the speaker doesn't study in this school?

    They are having a carnival at the school today.

    You said that at the school here "refers to location, irrespective of whether it is study time," but so does at school, right? So what would be the difference here?

    If I got it right, the speaker in Jacinta's example was a teacher. Does that make any difference?

    I can't talk to you now because I'm in school.
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2012
  45. Forero Senior Member

    Houston, Texas, USA
    USA English
    When it refers to location, "the school" means the school building. It could be any school that has already been mentioned, or the school in the neighborhood where the speaker or the listener is or lives, or the school where the speaker or the listener or the children of one or the other studies or teaches or works. (In other words, the would have its usual meaning.) "At" here could mean outside or inside. "In" would have to mean inside.

    In other contexts, "in the school" would not be referring to time. It could refer either to a specific school institution or to a particular group associated with it.
    If I were a teacher, not a student, I might say "in class", but I would not say "in school" here.
     
  46. Ariel Knightly

    Ariel Knightly Senior Member

    Rio de Janeiro
    Brazilian Portuguese
    Thank you very much, Forero. I guess now I don't have any further questions. Sorry to have bothered you so much. Thank you again. :)
     
  47. sevengem

    sevengem Senior Member

    Chinese
    What about this sentence?
    How are you doing _____ school? In or at?
     
  48. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2012
  49. ribran

    ribran Senior Member

    Austin, Texas
    English - American
    For me:

    How are you doing in school? - How are your grades?
    How are you doing at school? - How are things (in general) at school? (It's more natural to say it this way.)
     
    Last edited: Apr 18, 2012
  50. EdisonBhola Senior Member

    Korean
    After reading this long thread, I'm still not sure if I've understood the distinction between the different versions. Let's say if it's the learning environment that we're talking about:

    "We need to work together to improve the learning environment in/at school."

    In this context, would you use "in" or "at"?
     

Share This Page