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Does "in the cinema" mean "inside the room in which films are shown" as shown in the above picture?

Or

Does "in the cinema" mean "inside the whole building including the room in which films are shown, things around it such as the box office, the lounge and popcorn shop" as shown in the below picture?

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Does "in the cinema" mean "inside the room in which films are shown" or "inside the whole building including the box office"?

Is it correct to say "You can buy tickets at the box office in the cinema" or "You can buy tickets at the box office at the cinema"?

Note: It seems some grammar books say "You can buy your rail passes at the ticket counter in any train station in the country." (Source)

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    "In the cinema" means the whole building, which often contains several screens. I would say neither of those, but "...at the cinema box office." Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 5:35
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    I would call the top picture 'the (or an) auditorium' of the cinema. Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 6:40
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    Does this answer your question? Should I say "She is in the park" or "She is at the park"? I know the question is different, but there are some very good explanations of the difference between “at a place” and “in a place” that apply to your question.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 16:55
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    Every combination of words is not completely unique or we would never be able to understand each other. There are patterns. I wouldn’t expect you to know that those answers apply to a cinema as well as a park before you asked your question, but they do and you will benefit from reading them.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 17:12
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    Also, it should be noted that many cinemas (at least in the US) actually have their ticket counters on the outside of the building (so you are actually standing outside while buying the ticket). In this case, "at" would still work, but "in" would likely seem strange.
    – Foogod
    Commented Aug 15, 2021 at 21:01

2 Answers 2

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Generally, "in" + location means inside the location, while "at" + location means inside or in the immediate area around the location.

Also, "cinema" can refer to the whole building or to the theatre room itself.

So, if the box office of this cinema is located outside the building, like old-style cinemas, then "at the box office at the cinema" is correct. If the box office is inside the building, then "at the box office in the cinema" is correct.

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Either of:

  • You can buy tickets at the box office in the cinema
  • You can buy tickets at the box office at the cinema

is correct and might well be said by a fluent speaker.

The forms

  • You can buy tickets at the cinema box office.
  • You can buy tickets at the box office.

are also correct and natural. The difference is only one of style, the meaning of all four versions is the same.

The phrase:

in the cinema

would most often be used to mean anywhere inside the building (or the part of the building devoted to films), but might be used to mean inside the actual room where the films are shown. Context should make this clear.

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  • But grammar books say "You can buy your rail passes at the ticket counter in any train station in the country.". If I say "at the station", I get an F.
    – Tom
    Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 17:10
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    @Tom That would be because ticket counter of railways or metros are in most cases located inside the train station. This is not necessarily the case with the box office. As user gotube said, you need to say it depending on the situation. But again, if the cinema hall is located in a shopping mall, then cinema wouldn't mean the entire building. It would be just the movie complex consisting of the box office, snack stand, washroom, etc. Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 17:16
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    @Tom Grammar books rarely display the full flexibility of the English language. They are giving useful, and perhaps preferred examples. "In the station" is probably more common than "at". A teacher who makes this an absolute rule is in my view doing students a disservice. Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 17:18
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    @Tom In reality, people will surely pay no major attention whether you say them 'in' or 'at'. As per human nature, they would make logical assumption that the box office is present inside if they don't see it present outside. Commented Jun 30, 2021 at 17:20

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