at /on the navy base


Senior Member
The presence of Chinese technical staff members at the naval base, in Karachi, is another sign of China’s growing involvement in Pakistan.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said “technical staff of a certain enterprise” had been on the naval base in Karachi ...

---taken from the New York Times (subscription, not free)

Dear all,

Could you please tell me what the difference is between "at" and "on" in above? Thanks.

  • Fabulist

    American English
    Not to me. It has an implication that the "technical staff of a certain enterprise" were only visiting, not assigned there, but that is what one would expect about personnel who were not members of one of the Pakistani armed services.

    It looks like these were perhaps successive sentences in the same news article. The writer might have chosen his prepositions just for variety.


    Senior Member
    American English
    To make up a line: They were at/on the base when the attack occurred -- it doesn't matter if they were visitors or permanent personnel to me. I think at or on will be chosen depending on who's doing the reporting.


    English - American
    When speaking to someone in the military if they are currently situated inside the barriers of the base, they say they are "on base"

    So, to answer LQZ's question, on the base really doesn't sound odd.

    I can see a small difference between the terms, it's just very hard to explain. The first sentence has to do with their prescence in that area and the second has to do with the fact that they are actually on the base itself.

    However, I think most non-military people could use the terms interchangeably.
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