Results 1 to 10 of 10
  1. #1
    paikiah Guest

    Preposition (at/in)

    I was wondering if anyone can tell me the FUNDAMENTAL reasoning behind this:

    I am in the building
    I am at the building


    I am trying to write some guidelines to local internet users on choosing the correct prepositions...yet if I were to give them the basic "definite" and "indefinite" time/location for the direct object, then what I said above about "in the building" and "at the building" does not apply. I really do not want to write it off as just another exception.

    Could anyone give me a more definite answer?


  2. #2
    Mister Micawber's Avatar
    Mister Micawber is offline Key Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • Japan
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    1,855
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    Welcome to UsingEnglish, Paikaih.

    There is a definite answer, and it is not exceptional. As prepositions of place, we use 'at' when the speaker's concept is of a point location, in which dimension is irrelevant to the statement: 'my flight landed unexpectedly at London'; 'I'll see you at school tomorrow'. When s/he is concerned with the two- or three-dimensionality of the location, however, the speaker will more likely use 'in' (or 'on'): 'I am visiting friends in London next week'; 'I'll be in the school, not on the playground, if you want to see me'.

    Thus in your examples, 'I am in the building' implies that you are not outside, while 'I am at the building' means that you are not still downtown or approaching the building in your automobile.

    In practice, there is much overlap in use, and one speaker's subconscious may see the place as 'at' where another speaker's subconscious sees it as 'in'; but that is the basic rule, and it is reasonably reliable.

  3. #3
    paikiah Guest

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    Thanks for the quick and in-depth reply.

    I still need to have a "rule" if you will, that can cover the reasoning behind why in the building and at the building is allowed.

    Also, it's in the morning, afternoon, evening... reason being that they are indefinite (or so I've assumed).

    However, it's at night, or at daybreak. I was about to say that day and night is definite due to light / lackthereof, a definite visual state. Does that sound funny?

  4. #4
    Mister Micawber's Avatar
    Mister Micawber is offline Key Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • Japan
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    1,855
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    I think the rule I gave for prepositions of place is clear and specific.

    'Morning', 'afternoon' and 'evening' are periods of time which have duration (the time dimension), hence, anything that occurs does so within the period.

    'At night' is idiomatic. ('In the night' is also available for durational use.)
    'At daybreak' is a point (non-dimensional) in time (e.g. 5:53 a.m.) which can be found in your local newspaper.

  5. #5
    paikiah Guest

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    THanks again for the quick reply.

    I think it's what I needed. Just need to simplify to a standard that midschoolers can understand.

    now the question lies in how well I'm gonna be able to draw all the illustrations.

  6. #6
    Steven D's Avatar
    Steven D is offline Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    834
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    Quote Originally Posted by paikiah
    I was wondering if anyone can tell me the FUNDAMENTAL reasoning behind this:

    I am in the building
    I am at the building


    I am trying to write some guidelines to local internet users on choosing the correct prepositions...yet if I were to give them the basic "definite" and "indefinite" time/location for the direct object, then what I said above about "in the building" and "at the building" does not apply. I really do not want to write it off as just another exception.

    Could anyone give me a more definite answer?

    I'm in the building. - The speaker is "inside" the building.

    I'm at the building. - The speaker is close to the building. Maybe he/she is in the parking lot. The speaker is in the vicinity of the building. The speaker can see the building.

    in - for enclosed spaces or limitations

    at - for locations in general

    I would take a look at this. If you have more questions about how to explain "in" and "at", just let me know.

    http://www.usingenglish.com/handouts/beginner/in-on-at.pdf

  7. #7
    paikiah Guest

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    One question answered, a million new ones arise (not suprising).

    How about this:

    There were many people exercising (at) night
    There were many people exercising (in) the night

    when "the" is used, it changes to in, but it's not true in all cases. I have about 5 grammar texbooks in front of me, but none of them really explains wh, nor can I come up with magic "grammar rule" that most students here in Korea wants to memorize.

  8. #8
    Steven D's Avatar
    Steven D is offline Senior Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    834
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    Quote Originally Posted by paikiah
    One question answered, a million new ones arise (not suprising).

    How about this:

    There were many people exercising (at) night
    There were many people exercising (in) the night

    when "the" is used, it changes to in, but it's not true in all cases. I have about 5 grammar texbooks in front of me, but none of them really explains wh, nor can I come up with magic "grammar rule" that most students here in Korea wants to memorize.
    There were many people exercising in the night

    That's a tough one. I can say this much: I probably would never use "in the night" in a sentence such as that one. It's kind of unusual I'd say.

    That aside, I can't think of any rule here. Maybe if I thought about it harder..... well...... I don' know.

  9. #9
    paikiah Guest

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    I think I got the "rules" down somewhat:

    “In” is used when
     Describing an indefinite time.
     Describing three dimensional objects or areas (definable limitations, boundary) . {on is used for 2 dimensions}

    “At” is used when
     Describing a definite time.
     Describing a point with no dimensions (no limitation or boundary) .

    Think what I ended up with is correct?

    I'd have to think harder about the in the night, at night to really make this rule stick.. but I think for now, I'm content. :)

  10. #10
    Mister Micawber's Avatar
    Mister Micawber is offline Key Member
    • Member Info
      • Member Type:
      • English Teacher
      • Native Language:
      • English
      • Home Country:
      • United States
      • Current Location:
      • Japan
    Join Date
    Sep 2004
    Posts
    1,855
    Post Thanks / Like

    Re: Preposition (at/in)

    Offhand, it sounds to me like those will cover most non-idiomatic cases, Paikiah-- except that I would change 'indefinite' to 'durational' (dimensional) and 'definite' to 'instantanous' (non-dimensional or point-in-time).

    As I said, 'at night' is an idiom, and is classified as such in most texts. Students of English must confront idioms, even with the strictest of rule-setting.

Similar Threads

  1. complex preposition
    By Anonymous in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 13
    Last Post: 03-Aug-2009, 09:17
  2. Preposition
    By Emanuelli in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 16-Feb-2005, 03:15
  3. preposition
    By james_chew_84 in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 07-Jan-2005, 06:01
  4. preposition
    By Apple in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 12-Nov-2004, 13:42
  5. preposition for body
    By vladz in forum Ask a Teacher
    Replies: 1
    Last Post: 03-Nov-2004, 10:00

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •