'In' or 'at'? [closed]

+4 votes
In the data section of profiles, the default setting is 'in' for places of birth, marriage and death.  At the very grave risk of being pedantic, should that not read 'at'?  I have always understood that 'in' applies to a building and 'at' to a location.
closed with the note: sufficient advice has been gained to solve the question
in Policy and Style by Kenneth Evans G2G6 Pilot (224k points)
closed by Kenneth Evans
Given that we have people of varying ages, education and places.  in or at  would seem easily interchangeable.
No more so than 'from' and 'to' could be interchangeable in my world, Marion.  Any and every word must have its own specific meaning, else language means nothing.  Like I said, I'm probably being a tad pedantic.
There are also cases where 'on' is the best choice.
That might also depend on local ways of speaking. I'm English and when I go shopping in the town (or used to, since Covid 19), I say "I am going to Coalville" but in the past tense "I was in Coalville", but never "I was at Coalville". I might have been at or in <a particular shop>. I was born in <town name>, at or in <hospital name>. People born in the city of Leicester tend to say "We went up town" but I was brought up in a village and say "I went to town". I was recently in the county, not at the county. A business is located in the town, in the county, but they might say "We are at the top end of <street name> or we are in <street name>". people who went to church might say we were in church, but I have also heard them say "we were at church".
The English grammar that I was taught (Ohio-USAmerican) generally used "in" for most geographic locations (in Ohio, in the USA, in North America). Both "at" and "in" were used relative to building/structure locations (in/at church/school/store/hospital); "in" would mean that one was physically inside the structure, while "at" could mean either inside or outside.

I have to plead guilty to using either.  It seems dependant more on my trying to not be "same old same old" when writing biographies, I think.  After all, there are only so many ways to say the same thing over and over and over. 

There is also this :

My son and family live "in" New York City, "at" 3536 Broadway. So sometimes it is necessary to use several prepositions to pin point a location.

by Daniel Bly

4 Answers

+4 votes
Best answer
Indeed language does have specific meanings and there are times when words can be interchangeable, but regional use and dialect aside, context is always important. One can be in a building, in a city or in a state. A state and a city are too large for the word "at" to have any meaning at all when referring to a location. My son and family live "in" New York City, "at" 3536 Broadway. So sometimes it is necessary to use several prepositions to pin point a location.
by Daniel Bly G2G6 Mach 7 (72.6k points)
selected by Kenneth Evans
Sometimes we are just being kind. Most people who died at sea really died in it.

Most people who died at sea really died in it.

Not necessarily.  My  great-grandfather died AT sea.  He was not IN the water, he was in a ship that was ON the water.  He was buried IN the sea.

There are certain conventions that also apply and this is an excellent example.!
+10 votes

It depends what you're talking about.  A hospital or church would probably be 'at', while a town, city, etc. would be 'in'.

From yourdictionary.com:

Deciding which word you should be using comes down to a question of where. 

  • “At” is used when you are at the top, bottom or end of something; at a specific address; at a general location; and at a point.  

  • “In” is used in a space, small vehicle, water, neighborhood, city and country.

Location Sentence Examples for “At”

Examples work to really clarify how “at” is used in action. 

  • Specific Address: You can visit us at 123 Wilson Drive.

  • General Location: I will meet you at the school.

  • Intersection: The bus station is at Marble Street and Red Drive.

  • Specific Location: I’ll see you at home. 

  • At a Point: We can meet at the traffic light. 

  • Bottom of Something: My bag is at the bottom of the stairs. 

Examples of Using “In” for Locations

When it comes to “in”, you know that its usage is different. That’s because you’re typically describing a location that’s inside of something. Explore how “in” is used in sentence examples.

  • In a Space: The keys are in my bag. 

  • Small Vehicle: Go get in the car. 

  • Water: We are going swimming in the pool. 

  • Neighborhood: My friend lives in Greektown. 

  • City: That school is in Caro. 

  • Country: We live in the United States. 

by Ian Beacall G2G6 Pilot (201k points)
edited by Ian Beacall
+5 votes
"In" can, and often is, used to mean "within the boundaries/geographical area of", so can be appropriately used when referring to towns and other geographical divisions. In fact, at least in the US, "in" is standard in common usage. For example, it is standard to say "I was born in California" and it would be very unusual to say "I was born at California."
by Chase Ashley G2G6 Pilot (258k points)
edited by Chase Ashley
+1 vote
Thank you everybody for your comments and answers. You have helped this crazy mind quite a lot.
by Kenneth Evans G2G6 Pilot (224k points)

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