Grammar-QuizzesAdverbialsPrepositional Phrases › At vs. In

At vs. In

Express location, enrollment and other concepts map location / inside location



Basic Use

Jane: Hi, where have you been?

Jack: I was at IKEA looking for some bookshelves. I saw some good ones in the office section.

Jane: I always get lost in IKEA.

Jack: I know what you mean. It helps to take a map at the entrance.  You can pick up a shopping bag and a map as you go in¹.

Jack: Later, I tried you to call you, but my phone wouldn't work in the garage.

Jane: It's a good thing that I saw you at the store exit.

Jack: Yes. Otherwise I would have had to spend the night in there! Let's go home

Jane: OK, but first, I need to stop at the pharmacy. I need to go in and get a few things.

Jack:  Could you drop me off at home first?  I have a headache.

Jane: Sure.

¹ in (adv / prep) —  as you go in (toward direction) / as you go in (the entrance)

but first — before that 






When the preposition at is used with a place, it indicates a relatively exact (e.g., GPS ) location such as a building, structure, or enclosed area. (cross-point)

He's at IKEA

He's at the entrance.

~He's at the parking lot / at the garage. 

He's at the bus stop.

*He's at there.  (store)  He's there.


When the preposition in is used with a location, it indicates an area or space within a defined place.                                                                                                          

He's in IKEA.

He's in the office section.

He's in the parking lot / in the garage.

*He's in the bus stop. 

He's in there. (inside)


~ rarely used, requires a special situation / *rarely or not used







At / In

Being Located vs. Being Enrolled



Read the Context

Jack: Where's Roberta?

Dana: She's at school.

Jack: Is she in school already? 

Dana: Yes, she started kindergarten this year.

Jack: It's hard to believe she's already in kindergarten. Do you miss her?

Dana: Not really. It's just three hours a day.  It's nice to have a few free hours to myself each day.

Jack: I get that. You're probably glad to be back at work. I would feel as if I were in jail if I had to stay at home doing childcare 24-7. 

Dana: Well, it's not that bad, but it did make me feel confined.  Kindergarten is good for both Roberta and me. 

24–7 — twenty four hours a day; seven days a week

confined — kept or forced to remain in a small space

enrollment — being registered or admitted to a place  [alternate spelling: enrolment, enroled]

i get that — I understand






Normally, at refers to a two-dimensional location, for example, a building, an institution or a campus, something that can be located with cross-hairs.                                                                                                                    


She's at school / at college (visiting, teaching, doing administrative work)

She's at home. (location)   She's home.

She's at work. (location and in the process of doing his job)

She's at the jail. (visiting, providing healthcare, doing administrative work)


He's at the hospital. (visiting, providing healthcare, doing administrative work)

He's at the University of Arizona (visiting, teaching, doing administrative work)

*He's at the military. (not a location)

*He's at the Academy. (West Point Military Academy, an institution)


In addition to being used to indicate an area, the preposition in expresses the meaning of process: being admitted, participating or registered in an institution (e.g., completing work, serving time or getting well).


She is in school / in college(working toward completion or graduation)

*She's in home.   She's in her home/house watching television (inside).

*She's in work.      She's in her office. (inside).

She's in jail / prison. (serving time for a crime)  He's in the jail.  (inside)


He's in the hospital. (resting, healing, getting well) 

He's in hospital. Br-Eng  "in hospital"

He is in the University of Arizona(working toward completion or graduation)

He's in the military. [group] (doing military service) 

He's in the Naval Academy. [institution] (learning, training, serving) 







At / In


lazing about


Read the Context

Jane: I'm at wit's end with my son.

Jack: Are you two at odds again.

Jane: No, not at all. I just worry about Jim.  He's at loose ends. Ever since he did poorly in his biology class, he has been down on himself.

Jack: He'll get over it.  He'll be upset with himself for a while and then later have another go at it.


Jane: If he doesn't get in gear he'll be left behind.

Jack: What's his excuse? 

Jane: He thinks his teacher had it in for him. You see, he blew up part of the science lab by accident.

Jack: I see. In other words, he's in hot water?

Jane: I guess you could say that.  Perhaps, he should take the course in a different college.

Jack: Indeed.

 be down on something / someone — be critical, find fault, be negative to

indeed — true (emphasis)

wit (N) — mental ability,







AT A CROSSROADS (at a time for making decisions)

My son is at a crossroads.  He is deciding which direction he will go in his life.

AT A LOSS (deficit, less than the original price)

He sold his Hummer (big, military-like auto) at a loss.

AT A LOSS FOR WORDS (unable to explain)

When I asked her where she was, she was at a loss for words.

AT ANY RATE (anyhow, whatever the situation, nevertheless)

He doesn't have much savings or pension income. At any rate, he'll manage.

AT LOOSE ENDS (without guidance or direction)

He is at loose ends.  He doesn't  know what to do with his life.

AT ODDS WITH [in conflict with]

He is at odds with his wife.  They are separating.

AT THE PEAK (at the highest point)

He is at the peak of his career. (most productive time)


He at risk of having a heart attack.

AT WIT'S END (at the limits of one's mental resources)

He is at wit's end.  / He is at his wit's end. He has tried every way possible to help his son.

GET AT  (imply)

What are you getting at?   What are you really trying to say?

GO AT (attack)

The two politicians went at each other viciously.

HAVE A GO AT (attempt)

Let me have a go at it.  I can usually fix a leaky faucet.

HAVE AT (attack, attempt)

He said what? Let me have at him. 

LOOK AT (view)

Look at him! He's doing a triple turn.

NOT AT ALL  (definitely not)

Are you tired?  Not at all.





GO IN WITH (collaborate, work together)

They went in with them on a business deal.

HAVE IT IN FOR (want to harm)

He had it in for me after I took his girlfriend out on a date.

IN A FIX /A PICKLE (in a difficult situation)

We ran out of gas and had no money. We were in a fix.


If she asks, "Do I look fat?", don't answer.  If you answer truthfully, she'll be upset.  If you lie, she won't trust you.  You will be in between a rock and a hard place.

IN DEMAND (highly desirable, wanted)


His knowledge and skills are in demand.

IN FOR (about to experience)


If you haven't seen this show before, you are in for an amazing experience.

IN GEAR (get motivated, get started)


Let's get in gear and get it done.


He came home at 4 a.m. His wife was upset.  He was in hot water.

IN JEOPARDY (in danger)

After he did poorly on the college entrance exam, his college plan was in jeopardy

IN LINE FOR (be likely to get something good, waiting, expecting)


He is in line for a promotion because of all the creative projects he has done this year.

IN LOVE  (enamored)

They are in love.

IN ON (aware of, involved in )

His friend was in on the joke / secret.  / The robber's girlfriend was in on the job.

IN THE KNOW (aware of)

The Mayor proposed a new plan. The reporters were already in the know.

IN TRANSITION / IN FLUX (in a state of change or movement)

He quit his job and is in transition.

IN WITH (special introduction)

Jason's uncle is an engineer so he had an in with the company.





Common Mistakes

Errors and Solutions


Error and Solution


*He's at house right now.


He used an in house lawyer to handle the law suit.  (expression)


He's at home

~He's at his house.   (understood, but not commonly used)

He used an in-house lawyer to handle the law suit.  (add a hyphen to this modifier)

An in-house service is one that is hired from within the company (not out-sourced to another company or individual.)






Practice 1

Where's Vera?

Desert home



Read the Context

When was the last time you saw Vera? 

I saw her __ Las Vegas. She was performing __ the Paradise Hotel __ the Palm Room. She was __ a show called "Dancing Shoes". She was living nearby __ the desert. She bought a home __ Quail Street and Snake Road.

Did you visit her at her house?

I tried to but she wasn't __ home. She was having some work done __ her house.  So I went __ the garage and asked a workman where she was.  The painter told me that she probably was __ class. She has been attending classes __ a local community college.



Complete the sentence with "at" or "in".

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 1-10" button at the bottom.

















Practice 2

Recovery from Hardship

At Odds


Read the Context

The economic depression was hard on my family. We were [in a difficult situation]. My father lost his job as a manager.  He was laid off. And my mother's job was also [in danger]. Money problems caused marriage problems.  My parents were [in conflict] with each other.  With little money left, my father was [extremely frustrated], and so was my mother. Because of the poor economy, we were going to have to sell our house [below the original price]. Our family was [in danger] of falling apart.

My father was [at a point that required a decision].  He could stay the course and wait for his old job, or he could go a different direction and retrain in a new field. He decided to get [moving] and take a new road—update his skills.

A college counselor, who was [knowledgeable], recommended a class on coding skills, which were [highly desired] by employers.  So, my father decided to [attempt] it. He chose an app coding course with the goal of being able to write a new app. He knew he was in for a lot of studying.

Within twelve weeks, he had developed an app that was so clever that it caught the interest of his instructor.  The two of them [collaborated on] the project and sold it to a company. This success gave him an [special introduction] the company, and they offered him a job with a very good salary. As a result, my father was able to pay off our debts.  And, best of all, my parents are back together and still [enamored] with each other.

app (N) — an application that runs on a mobile phone or tablet

coding (N) — the language used to write an application for a computer or mobile device

collaborate on(V) — work together on (something)

retrain (V) — study new skills

salary (N) — payment for work

skill (N) — a special, learned ability to do something well

stay the course — continue on as usual





Complete the sentence with an "at" or "in" expression.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 11-24" button at the bottom.










, recommended a class on coding (programming) skills,