Which preposition is correct in this sentence?

There is a pharmacy on/in/at the 2nd floor.


We say that something is on the 2nd floor. A Google ngram of the three phrases makes it clear. Examples where "in" or "at" were used: "Interior of the east wall at the second-floor level." "When the elevator platform was at the second floor, ...." "Occasionally, someone's girlfriend or mom would be walking in the second-floor hall ...." "... an opening in the second-floor fire escape ...".

  • "On" suggests you are standing on something, like grass or a sidewalk or a floor.

  • "In" suggests you are standing inside of something like a box or a cave or a building.

  • "At" is fairly complicated, but for the purposes of this question, it suggests you are near something such as standing near a street corner (I'm at the corner of Hollywood and Vine) or near a part of something (I'm at the trail head) or providing a general location (I'm at home/school/work).

The correct preposision is therefore "on," as the pharmacy is built on or is located on top of the second floor of the building.

"In" would suggest that the pharmacy was located inside the floor itself (e.g., half above and half below the floor).

"At" makes even less sense as it would suggest the pharmacy was near the 2nd floor but not on the 2nd floor itself. From a humorous point of view, it might suggest the pharmacy was located inside an elevator and was passing the 2nd floor when the question of its location was asked.

For the sake of completeness, you could use "at" in the following way:

The pharmacy is at Walmart.

It would be more precise to say "the pharmacy is in Walmart," but "at" is acceptable in the same way it's used for "I'm at home/school/work."

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