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I know the difference between arrive at and arrive in, but where can I use arrive to?

A car arrived to the gate.

Should I use arrived at?

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Supplemental to other answers

Arrive to is rare in present-day English, and I advise you to avoid it; but it was at one time more common. Robert Baker, Remarks on the English Language, in the Manner of Those of Vaugelas on the French; Being a Detection of Many Improper Expressions Used in Conversation, and of Many Others to Be Found in Authors, 2nd Ed. 1779, not only concedes its propriety in figurative uses but acknowledges, even as he scorns the use, that “people of education” employ it:

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  • 1
    Definitely! That "literal/figurative" distinction seems to have been observed quite consistently in earlier texts. I knew it wasn't current today, but it did ring a bell. When checking Google Books before commenting on Kaz's answer, I couldn't avoid noticing how often people arrived to the age {of majority, some number of years, etc.}, rather than to [some actual physical location]. – FumbleFingers Nov 16 '13 at 21:16
  • You can also have "arrive" + "to" if the "to" is describing motive rather than place. For example "We'll arrive early to take advantage of the free buffet." == "We'll arrive early so that we can take advantage ..." – Matt Nov 17 '13 at 5:07
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    @Matt Yep! That's because the phrase headed by to in your example is an adjunct (of purpose) rather than a complement, so there are no selectional requirements placed on it. Of course, arrive doesn't take a PP complement headed by to. – snailboat Nov 17 '13 at 16:27
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In this case, it should be

A car arrived at the gate.

At is used for specific locations (as in , the gate) However, for cities and countries, it is arrived in. So,

Jane arrived in New York.

However,

Jane arrived at New York airport.

So "arrived in" is for more general/broader locations, while "at" is for specific locations. Note: "at" is also used for time:

Jane arrived at 3:45 AM

In general, "arrive" should not be followed by the preposition "to", since "to" implies movement, whereas "arrive" does not. ("Arrive" implies accomplishment of movement, not the movement instead.)

The only time "arrive" and "to" would be together might be something like this:

Jane arrived to take a test.

where the location is implied and the sentence actually means:

Jane arrived in New York to take a test.

Colloquially, the "in New York" might be omitted if obvious.

  • Or "A car arrived to block the gate" as another possible case where "...arrive to..." works. – Martin F Mar 2 '14 at 8:04
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At and in are prepositions that express location and are followed by a noun phrase.
- A car arrived at the gate. (Means the car actually stopped at the gate)
- A car arrived in the park. (Means the car drove into the park)

To is a preposition that expresses a consequence or a purpose and will be followed by a verb clause.
- A car arrived to save us from walking all the way home. (Consequence of the car arrival : we did not have to walk).
- A taxi arrived to pick us up. (We'd ordered a taxi and it came with the purpose to pick us up.)

---Edit ---
I've answered within the scope of your question (i.e. use of to after arrive). Obviously to can express location if used after a verb of movement:
- I walk (drive/fly/swim/skate/crawl...) to work every weekday.

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