"at" before city names

AndrasBP

Senior Member
Hungarian
Hello everyone,

I'm reading an English text about the adventures of a 15th-century Spanish traveller. The introduction was written in 1926.
I noticed that it regularly uses the preposition "at" instead of "in" before placenames (in the sense of location, not direction), which I found unusual,
e.g. AT Cairo, AT Jerusalem, AT Milan.

How (un)common is this usage now? Is it old-fashioned?
 
  • suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    It would probably depend on the entire sentence. Can you quote a couple which you think seem unlikely these days?

    We will be catching the bus from Cairo.
    There is a man in Cairo whom I want to see.
    The bus terminates at Cairo.

    All of these are viable options.
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    "At" is a standard way of referring to a ship that stops at a port. A ship might be at Bergen, for example. The passengers leave the ship and are then in Bergen. From what you told us about the context, this might fit.

    This usage isn't only for ships, though it's common for them. The traveler wouldn't have gone to Jerusalem by ship, of course, unless it means camels - often described poetically as "ships of the desert." One could also say "While his caravan was at Jerusalem," meaning that it stopped there and would continue onward later.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    I'm reading an English text about the adventures of a 15th-century Spanish traveller. The introduction was written in 1926.
    It would be a really good idea to tell us your source and to provide complete sentences. After all, the forum guidelines do start
    The Quick Guide to English Only

    We answer specific questions about words or phrases in a complete sentence with context and background in a respectful, helpful and cordial manner.
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Thank you very much for your input.

    "At" is a standard way of referring to a ship that stops at a port. A ship might be at Bergen, for example. The passengers leave the ship and are then in Bergen. From what you told us about the context, this might fit.
    I see the point about ships. I suppose in this case "at" means something like "close to", but it seems that some of the cities mentioned in the text are not ports at all.
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    PLease tell us the name of the book and a complete sentence, so we can see how the phrase has been used. As you see, people are eager to help but we aren't supposed to guess at what is meant. Then we can also tell you whether the particular usage is common or old-fashioned.
     
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    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    It would be a really good idea to tell us your source and to provide complete sentences. After all, the forum guidelines do start
    Yes, sir!
    The text I'm reading is the following:

    The Travels of Pero Tafur (1435-1439).
    Digitized from The Broadway Travellers series, edited by Sir E. Denison and Eileen Power, translated and edited by Malcolm Letts (New York, London: Harper & brothers 1926)


    The relevant parts of the sentences in question:

    Albert was a man of ability and character, and he made a great impression on Tafur, who was his guest AT Breslau,...

    We next find our traveller AT Venice,...

    Life AT Jerusalem at this time must have been an extremely profitable business for the infidel,...

    AT Cairo he made friends at once with the Sultan's chief interpreter,...

    AT Rhodes he found the Grand Master dying...

    We next find the traveller AT Trebizond as the guest of John IV Comnenus

    AT Ferrara he encountered the Pope...
     
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    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    That makes sense. If you describe somebody's itinerary and associated events, "at" is a reasonable preposition to use.
    He went to New Zealand. At Heathrow he had his hand luggage stolen, at Kuala Lumpur he lost his wallet, at Sydney the immigration officer took all the food from his suitcase and at Auckland his wife left him.
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Thank you very much.

    Does this mean that if these had been separate, unconnected events, the author would have probably used "IN Cairo, Venice, etc."?
    Is "AT" optional in the examples above? Would the sentences sound the same with "IN", or would there be a slight difference?
     
    I see the point about ships. I suppose in this case "at" means something like "close to", but it seems that some of the cities mentioned in the text are not ports at all.
    No.

    Does this mean that if these had been separate, unconnected events, the author would have probably used "IN Cairo, Venice, etc."?
    Is "AT" optional in the examples above? Would the sentences sound the same with "IN", or would there be a slight difference?
    I'm not sure what 'unconnected events' means. "At" is quite common for stops on a trip. Egmont, above, mentioned this.

    I can say, "I was out today. At the bookstore I bought a book. Much later, at the supermarket, I bought some lemons."

    While 'in' would not be wrong, it seems a bit odd. "In the bookstore" seems unnecessary-- why emphasize being 'in' while buying.
    'At' means 'occupying the location of'. "I saw my neighbor at the gas station as I drove by."

    ADDED: This does NOT mean that I saw my neighbor close to the gas station as I drove by. Obviously 'at' may mean "in immediate proximity to": As I drove by, I saw my neighbor stopped at the light."
     
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    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    As I see it, at gives a generality as to place, where as in indicates the event or object is bounded by something.
     

    Andygc

    Senior Member
    British English
    'No' = 'At' doesn't mean 'close to'. It means "used to indicate location or position: are they at the table?, staying at a small hotel", as in the Wordreference dictionary (Collins).
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    I'm not sure what 'unconnected events' means. "At" is quite common for stops on a trip.
    OK, I'll try to ask this in a different way: is it OK to use "at" before cities if the context is not stops on a trip, but just the location of a single event?
    E.g.:
    The Beatles was formed AT Liverpool.
    I met Jim AT Rome.
    (just odd or wrong?)
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    If we use "at" we're thinking of a location as a point; if we use "in" we're thinking of a location as an area.
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    "At + [name of city]" sounds rather old-fashioned to me. It is often used in the novels of Henry James (1843-1916), in contexts where most people today would use "in".
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hildy, so would you see "The train stops at Reading and Basingstoke" as old-fashioned? (I wouldn't;).)
     

    Hildy1

    Senior Member
    English - US and Canada
    Hildy, so would you see "The train stops at Reading and Basingstoke" as old-fashioned? (I wouldn't;).)
    Oh, no, sorry not to have been clear. Your sentence sounds fine to me. One could say that "Reading" and "Basingstoke" in the sentence refer to the train stations at those towns, or one could say, as you do, that in this case the towns are seen as points.

    It's just sentences like "He was born at London" - which I have often read, though not in anything written recently - that sound old-fashioned to me.
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    "At + [name of city]" sounds rather old-fashioned to me. It is often used in the novels of Henry James (1843-1916), in contexts where most people today would use "in".
    Thank you.
    This is what I suspected. So the reason for using "at" might not be the fact that it's a description of an itinerary, but simply the date of the text - 1926? (Or perhaps both?)
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Thank you.
    This is what I suspected. So the reason for using "at" might not be the fact that it's a description of an itinerary, but simply the date of the text - 1926? (Or perhaps both?)
    You have been given many examples where using AT is not at all old-fashioned and in most of the ones you actually quoted from your text you have been told they are still OK uses, so no, it is not "as you suspected". There might be one or two specific examples where the usage has become old-fashioned but that does not apply to all the examples you quoted from your older text.
     

    AndrasBP

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    You have been given many examples where using AT is not at all old-fashioned and in most of the ones you actually quoted from your text you have been told they are still OK uses, so no, it is not "as you suspected". There might be one or two specific examples where the usage has become old-fashioned but that does not apply to all the examples you quoted from your older text.
    OK, I understand. I wasn't specific enough. I should have written "this is what I suspected about the sentences where "at" does not refer to stops on a trip, like "he was born at London", which sounds old-fashioned to native English speakers like Hildy1". :)

    I think I've learned a lot from how this thread evolved, including the importance of being specific.
     
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