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I am a learner of English. Usually I use and see the prepositions by and in before the noun (hands). As these prepositions make sense when they come before the noun. But today I read an article on a news website. Where the reporter used the preposition at before the noun and it completely did not sound natural to me. So, as usual I landed here to get some help on it.

On the news website:

Ms Muhia says she would leave if her husband brought home another woman, and that many others would do the same.

"Where are we heading, we are going to have many divorces," she says.

Some men clearly feel threatened by such talk. Nderitu Njoka, who runs a men's empowerment group, says Kenyan men often suffer economic, legal and even physical abuse at the hands of women - and he defends polygamy.

"If your first or second wife doesn't respect you as a man - does not care for you, cook for you, do all those things that she's supposed to do, then you're not supposed to just stay there and live a stressful life."

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This is a metaphorical usage of sense 16 in Collins for learners:

You use at to say how something is being done.

In this case, physical abuse at the hands of women could be taken literally - that is, women may be using their hands to do this - but it is likely being used metaphorically, and means that women are responsible for the physical abuse.

In fact, it has its own sense (#12) in Collins for learners:

If someone experiences a particular kind of treatment, especially unpleasant treatment, at the hands of a person or organization, they receive it from them.

In answer to your more general question about at: yes, you can use it with a noun.

  • at home
  • at school
  • at the hospital
  • at the side of the road
  • Thanks for cluing me into the Collins for Learners dictionary, I'm a native speaker but there are times when regular dictionary definitions don't provide as much context as I'd like. – neontapir Sep 24 '15 at 16:17

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