IN or AT (place)

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Senior Member
Argentinian and European Spanish
Hi people,

I’m having trouble knowing when to use ‘in’ and when to use ‘at’ when talking about place. I’ve read some of the threads over here but it seems I cannot fully understand it.

I’d love to ask when to use each preposition but I know that’s a general question so I just thought of a few examples so as to make the explanation easier.

I was at the cinema/theatre last Saturday. --> according to the Cambridge Dictionary, we use ‘at’ because we refer to activities which involve a group of people. I also think we see the cinema/theatre as an institution rather than the physical building. I think that if I were talking to John on the phone, I’d say to him ‘Hi John, I’m IN/inside the cinema/theatre.

I also guess that words like ‘office’, ‘restaurant’ work in the same way:

At the office --> when I think of it as the workplace (There’s a lot of workload at the office these days)

In the office --> when I’m talking of the physical building/premises (When I was in the office this morning, I got 30 phone calls!)

At the restaurant --> as an institution (We must never be rude to the staff at a restaurant. / When you’re at a restaurant, remember to be polite to the waiter): sorry about the crappy example.

In the restaurant --> inside the physical building (Once in the restaurant, I’ll text you)

The kids were at school when Auntie Sarah arrived from the States. --> again, the Cambridge dictionary says that we must use ‘at’ with school, university or college. I’ve heard, however, in school as in ‘I wish I’d paid more attention in school’

These are just a few examples that have sprung to mind. I would appreciate your opinions on this!

  • Florentia52

    Modwoman in the attic
    English - United States
    Here are some threads that discuss these topics::

    in / at the cinema
    watch a movie in / at a cinema

    "at or in the office" issue
    at the office/in the office

    At / in the restaurant?
    I'm eating at/in the restaurant right now

    preposition -at, in -the school
    at school v in school
    at school//in school

    If these do not answer your questions, feel free to join the discussion in any relevant thread. You can find more threads by using the search box at the top of the page. This thread is closed.

    Florentia52, moderator
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