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As little sense it makes to me, I decided to just make peace using "I arrived in {city}", "I arrived at {place}" which to me makes it sound as if I were UPSed there.

However, that's only half of the reason I don't get it; the other part is the tense, see, in what I['m supposed to] speak at home, we use the preposition to when talking about arriving, or going, sending, or anything that involves a destination, and as I mentioned in the beginning, using in/at vs to seems like I in I arrived in is an object, not a/the subject …which kinda seems like at least it would need some aux verbs, for instance; "I'm arrived in" or "I have arrived in".

So. many. questions. Why does it always seem to be in the past? ‎ Do‎ you simply "arrived" or are/have arrived? The more I think about it the more it drives me insane. For what it's worth, I can see that by having arrived, if I'm using that correctly, you're no longer in transit, thus it's not being a destination anymore, which might make a case for not using the preposition to, but it's still kind of a stretch; lawyer-speak.

I obviously don't mean to impose other languages' rules on English, that's silly. I'm just trying to make sense of it. There's a subset of verbs about state, movement, and something else it escapes me now, that need a different auxiliary for different tenses, uses and even meanings, I had to learn them in two other languages plus my own, and I have a feeling this might be one of those cases too, but I don't know; I never formally took an English class or even took it as a second language except back on elementary, a filler period you would pass without ever forming a sentence. An elephant, a shirt, red, hello. Multiple-option, circle the drawing. A+.

I'd like not to pause whenever I say this. I'm a little embarrassed that I can't conjugate this into other tenses because it's formulaic when I use it, I find it similar to the en adverb in French, because the ordering tripped me up all the time until I got the that "Oh! Now I get it…" where it stopped being an issue and I could say j'en suis arrivé without giving it a second though, or looking dumbfounded like I would trying describe I arr.. an arrival in the past like I do in English.

If you can, could you explain it like I'm five, maybe then I get it; though a link to, IDK…Wikipedia is fine too.

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  • The verb to arrive doesn't always have to be past tense. Examples: "As you arrive at the intersection, you see a red car." (Narrative Present; uses the preposition "at" because an intersection can be approximated as a single 'point' on a map.) "He will arrive in Boston tomorrow." (Future tense; uses the preposition "in" because a city is larger than a single point: it has an interior.) Commented Mar 9 at 5:03
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    This is a very interesting and well-asked question, by the way! I'm looking forward to reading the answers :) Commented Mar 9 at 5:05
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    You go, or send something, to a place, but arrive in or at it. That's just how English is. Commented Mar 9 at 8:31
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    Also, arrive doesn't need an object. Someone or something that arrives reaches its destination. Commented Mar 9 at 10:39
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    Ugh it's an appallingly-asked question. Total lack of structure. There's a long ramble with multiple digressions and it's not clear what exactly the OP wants to know. No evidence of research into uses of arrive. Just learn the correct preposition and copy what other people do.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 19 at 11:56

3 Answers 3

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"In" is for larger areas like cities, countries, or states. You're basically entering a whole zone. Example: "I arrived in Paris." (Think of Paris like a big bubble you entered)

"At" is for specific locations like buildings, stations, or addresses. It's a pinpoint arrival. Example: "I arrived at the train station." (Think of the station as a specific point)

When it comes to tenses;

Simple Past (arrived): This is the most common when talking about completing an action in the past. Example: "We arrived in London yesterday." (Action of arriving is finished)

Present Perfect (have arrived): Use this for arrivals that happened recently or have a connection to the present. Example: "I have arrived safely. Are you ready to see me?" (Arrival is recent and relevant)

Present Simple (arrive): This is less common, but it can be used for scheduled arrivals or things that happen habitually. Example: "The train usually arrives at 10 pm." (Arrival happens regularly)

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  • In Britain, you can arrive at smaller places, (for some value of 'smaller'!), such as villages or towns, although this usage might be on the wane. Commented Mar 19 at 12:28
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To understand this, I think it's worthwhile speaking about the logic and meaning of the English verb to arrive. This may differ from other languages. There is no real reason why English speakers think this way. We could have easily used a different logic/meaning, but it is what it is, and you just have to learn it.

The verb to arrive means to reach a place, to be at the end of a journey. In English it has no sense of motion. Although it is a verb which is used in the context of travelling or sending, when something/someone has arrived, the journey is already over. The travelling has stopped. Therefore, when your journey is over, you are in a city when you are already there, i.e. when you are located inside that city.

However, with other verbs which imply motion, you can go/travel/fly/walk to a city. The preposition to implies motion towards, but if you are already there (you already arrived), you can't still be moving towards it.

It's possible to use arrive in many different tenses; present, present continuous, past, future, past perfect, present perfect, etc. However, it always retains this sense of no longer travelling, or being at the end of a journey.

Please also note "I am arrived" is incorrect. We always use the verb "have" to make the present perfect: "I have arrived", and the past perfect: "I had arrived". You can however use the present continuous "I am arriving at eight tomorrow morning" to talk about a future scheduled time/event.

As for in versus at, generally in is used for larger areas, countries, regions, cities, years, months, less specific times of day: in the afternoon, in the morning. And at is used for more specific locations, at a building, at the bank, at the cinema, and specific times of the day, at eight, at noon. On is used with specific days/dates, on Tuesday, on the 5th of December.

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    Nice explanation even though "at night" is pretty much an exception to the rule of specificity.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 19 at 13:03
  • @Mari-LouA Yeah . . . that's why I said generally. Sadly, there are always exceptions to rules in English: in the evening but at night, in a taxi but on a bus, in a boat but on a ship. It's just mad!
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Mar 19 at 13:25
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The reason that you say "arrived in" is because saying "I arrived to {city}" would be improper grammar. Furthermore, "in" is a preposition describing your position relative to something else. The "in" is just to help explain that you are within the city. If you were to use "at", it would be saying that you had just arrived in the city. I hope this helps!

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  • Care to explain why it is improper grammar (which is what the question is about)? And note that "at" is also a preposition describing one's position relative to something else.
    – Joachim
    Commented Mar 19 at 9:46
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    @Joachim It is done.
    – Bella L.
    Commented Mar 19 at 20:10

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