to stay: "at a motel" but "in a hotel"?

Discussion in 'English Only' started by mahau, Oct 20, 2010.

  1. mahau Senior Member


    I don't know which preposition should I use:

    to stay: "at a motel" but "in a hotel", right?

    Thank you!
  2. Harry Batt

    Harry Batt Senior Member

    USA English
    The colloquial way of saying it is "at a motel." It would be acceptable to say "in a hotel" or "in a motel."
  3. There's nothing wrong with 'at a hotel', either.

  4. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    As above, either way is fine, but note that if you name the hostelry, it's "at,' e.g. "at the Savoy," "at the Country Cabins," etc.
  5. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    This question wrongly assumes that the choice between in and at depends on the noun that follows. It does not. In and at mean different things.
  6. Ms Missy Senior Member

    U.S. Virgin Islands
    USA English
    Perhaps this is the type of situation that's difficult to explain, such as why we say we are riding in a car, but on a bus; in a boat, but on a ship etc! At any rate, I think it's safe to say that whether it's in or at, depends on the context of the overall message. For example, there's a slight difference in meaning between:

    a. We stopped at a motel ... (but there were no vacancies, so we didn't bother going inside).
    b. We stopped in a motel ... (to spend the night).

    Just my humble opinion,
  7. pops91710

    pops91710 Senior Member

    Chino, California
    English, AE
    But that is different from stayed. Stayed in or at is all the same, motel or hotel.
  8. Ms Missy Senior Member

    U.S. Virgin Islands
    USA English
    Ooops ... stayed vs stopped was an oversight on my part, Pops. Thanks for pointing it out and I agree that the 2 words would not be interchangeable according to the examples I gave. As far as stayed at versus stayed in ... I would probably be more prone to use 'at' if I were naming the motel. Ex: We stayed at the Rocky Mount Motel. However, I must add that context as a whole (or the point one wishes to emphasize) would undoubtedly come into play as to which word to use.

  9. Billf Senior Member

    English UK

    Taking this back (and making use of the

    "In" used as a preposition, can be defined as "within the limits, bounds, or area of"; and as an adverb, can be defined as "within a place".

    "At" used as a preposition, can be defined as "in or near the area occupied by; in or near the location of".

    So based on these definitions "at" can be used instead of "in" but "in" should not be used instead of "at".

    Therefore, if availing yourself of hotel or motel accommodation you can correctly describe this action as staying at or in a hotel or motel.

    On the other hand I could be completely wrong!:eek::D
  10. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    Yes, in perceives the following noun as an entity (real or metaphorical) that has at least three dimensions, and identifies location within the defined space. At does not.
  11. susanna76 Senior Member

    At the same time, if you plan to visit someone and stay at a hotel, you'd say "I'll be staying at a hotel." To my ears, it sounds a little strange to say "I'll be staying in a hotel." What do you think?
  12. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    Yes, you are thinking of the hotel as an institution that provides accommodation, not as a space defined by its physical perimeter. It is fine to say I'll be staying in the hotel if you mean within the confines of the building rather than in the annex over the road.
  13. mahau Senior Member

    Thank you for all answers!
  14. Embonpoint Senior Member

    I'm staying at a hotel. (Same goes for motel, friend's house etc.)
    I am at the hotel. (You already know I'm staying there. I'm telling you I'm there now. It could mean I'm just outside the hotel, in my room, in the parking lot or in the lobby.)
    I'm in the hotel. (I am inside the hotel. I am saying this to explain to you that I am inside, not outside in front or in the parking lot.)

    Here's a little skit I think might help.

    Frank: Let's meet at the hotel, okay?
    Anne: Sounds good.

    Later, at the meeting time:
    Frank, calling by cell: Where are you? I'm at the hotel but I don't see you.
    Anne: I'm in the parking lot. Don't you see my car?
    Frank: I'm in the hotel having a drink with Mark. Park your car and come inside and join us! We're in the bar right off the lobby.
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2012
  15. Ah_poix_e Senior Member


    What about if I want to say: "I spent the night in a hotel" versus "I spent the night at a hotel"? Is any of the two wrong?

  16. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    In the context, is the hotel a building (in), or a business providing accommodation (at), or something else?
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
  17. Ah_poix_e Senior Member

    Hi se16teddy,

    Hmmm, that's a tough one. :) I'm not sure if I understood what you're asking me there.
    Can you have a hotel that is not a building (of some sort at least)?

  18. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
    You stay in a building and at a place: How do you understand "hotel"? Is it a building or is it a place?
  19. Ah_poix_e Senior Member

    Hi PaulQ.
    Ohh, OK, I think now I got what se16teddy was talking about.

    I thought the verb "spend" somehow would change the way things are said - as compared to using the verb "stay". For instance, I was thinking you would always have to use spend the night in a hotel; I can see now that it does not have anything to do with it.

    Thank you so much. :)
  20. hsheng New Member

    Maybe the saying "in a motel" is fine as long as people exactly know what you are meaning.
  21. Parla Member Emeritus

    New York City
    English - US
    Welcome to the forum, Hsheng. :)

    Either "in a motel" or "at a motel" is acceptable; they mean the same thing.
  22. nh01 Senior Member

    As far as I understand, if I use the verb "stay" I can use "at" or "in" a hotel because no one can't stay outside the hotel normally. However, if I use the verb "to be", I should choose "at" or "in" according to what I mean (building or place). Is that right? Thanks in advance.
  23. kentix

    kentix Senior Member

    English - U.S.
    Please write a sentence. I don't understand how you plan to use "to be".
  24. nh01 Senior Member

    Thank you for your interest.

    For example, if I am a construction worker working on a hotel's construction I can say "I am in the hotel now" to emphasize "inside" when my chief calls me to learn where I am, right?
    But if I leave the house I can say "I am at the hotel now." when my friend calls me to learn where I'm staying, right?

    But if I am on holiday, I can say "I'm staying in/at a hotel", right?
  25. kentix

    kentix Senior Member

    English - U.S.
    That all sounds right.

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