I am really confused. Which preposition is correct?
She is in/at the park.
They are in/at the park.
I am in/at the park.
Should I use in or at in these sentences?
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In and at and on are notoriously difficult for learners to grasp and native speakers to explain.
These are called prepositions of place.
at conceives of a place or location as a point. Like an X on a map. You are at a particular place and not some other place. If there is an inside and outside to the place, at does not indicate whether you are inside or outside.
I'm at the bus stop.
I'm at the corner of 5th Avenue and Elm Street. =conceive the corner as the point of intersection.
I'm at the southeast entrance of the parking lot.
I'm at the park. (park is conceived as a point in space)
I'm at the parking lot. (conceived of as a point in space)
I'm at the shopping mall.
I'm at the south concession stand of Section 111 of the ballpark.
I'm at the swimming pool. (somewhere near the swimming pool, not in the swimming pool!)
I'm at the elevator. (as in at the elevator entrance)
Sometimes these expressions become fixed phrases, such as in
at the office
In conceives of a place or location as containment or enclosure, often as inside or within.
I'm in the store. =inside the store.
I'm in the park. =within the park.
I'm in the parking lot. =within the parking lot.
I'm in in the garden.
I'm in the city.
I'm in the world.
I'm in the corner of my room. =confined in the corner
I'm in the swimming pool. =within the water.
I'm in the chair. =enclosed by the chair.
I'm in the car.=within
I'm in the bus/train/airplane/boat/trolley/streetcar=confined within or inside.
I'm in first class (section of the aircraft)! =confined in or within the first class section or compartment.
On conceives of a place as on a surface or in contact with a surface
I'm on the chair. =the surface of the chair, including the seat or the arm or the back.
I'm on the corner of 5th Avenue and Elm Street. =conceive the corner as a surface area.
Im on the world (and I want to get off) =conceive the world as a surface area.
I'm on the school =on top of the school roof, for example.
I'm on the automobile (car) =on top of the autombile (car), it's roof as a surface
Note well: I'm on the bus/train/airplane/boat/trolley/streetcar (conceive of being in contact with a surface; these methods of transport are large enough to have a walkway, which is the surface.)
The fly is on the wall =in contact with a surface.
Notice corner was used with all three; which preposition depends on how the speaker conceives of the corner (at the point of intersection of two lines, in a place that confines her, or on a surface area.)
The bird is at the tree, as compared to at the bird feeder.
The bird is in the tree=within the tree branches, for example, or confined in the tree.
The bird is on the tree=on a branch, for example.
The bird is at the bird feeder, in the bird feeder (stuck inside, for example), on the bird feeder (on a surface, either on top or on a peg...
The boy is playing hockey on the street=street as a surface area.
The boy is playing hockey in the street=confined within the street.
Jill is at the stairway. (point in space)
Jill is on the stairway. (on a surface)
Jill is in the stairway. (within or confined)
Write your name in the top left corner of the page. (confined within the corner)
Now, print today's date at the top of the page (a point).
On the bottom of the page, draw an X.(on=on the surface of the page).
Draw a C in the middle of the page (confined in the middle).
Edit to add elevator:
We are at the elevator to mean at the entrance to the elevator.
We are in the elevator. We are inside the elevator.
We are on the elevator. (You are riding on the elevator, like on the bus. Here, the elevator floor is the surface area.)
Two people trying to find each other:
A. Where are you? (in some dialects, Where are you at?)
B. I'm at the zoological park.
A. Me too! Where at the park are you? Are you already in (inside, within the park)?
B. Not yet. I'm out on the parking lot (surface area) arguing with this other person.
A. What? What happened?
B. I was parking my car in the parking lot (within) when some clown hit my car. Where are you?
A. I was waiting at the 4th entrance like we agreed, but little Joey got bored, so we are already in (inside) the zoo.
B. Where in the zoo are you?
A. We were at the first taco stand; then we waited at the entrance of the Panda House for 20 minutes.
B. Cool! Are you in yet? (within/inside, the Panda House)
A. No. There is a delay. There is a worker on the Panda House, (on the surface of the top/roof).
B. Okay, I am now in line (fixed phrase) trying to get in (inside) the zoo.
A. I'll come meet you. At which entrance are you?
B. I'm at the southwest entrance.
A. Don't move. We're coming.
B. Too late. We're already in. (within, inside, confined in).
A. Where (at)?
B. I'm on the zoo train. (train conceived of as a surface). But these seats are so small, I sitting on the seat, not in the seat.
A. What do you mean on the seat?
B. Well, on the back of the seat (the back as a surface).
A. Are you (located/seated) at the back of the train? (a particular point ).
B. No, I never sit in back (fixed phrase, but means confined in back).
A. Guess what? We're on the ramp (surface) of the Lion Exhibit. Now we're in the exhibit (confined/inside).
B. What do you mean in the exhibit? You're really inside (=within, in) the exhibit, among the lions?!!
B.Hello? Hello?...Well, I hope she is not in the lion!
Both "at the park" and "in the park" are correct English, but they mean slightly different things.
At the park treats the park simply as a location without regard to being inside it or outside it.
In the park specifically means the interior of the park.
So, if you're standing just outside the gate to the park, you could say you are "at the park" but it would be wrong to say you're "in the park". If you're inside the park, then "at the park" and "in the park" would both be correct, but they have different emphasis. "At the park" emphasizes just the fact of being at the park; "in the park" emphasizes that you are at one place inside the park, as opposed to many other places inside the park.
Some examples to illustrate the difference:
I work as a groundskeeper at Golden Gate Park.
Here, "in" would be incorrect, because you don't mean a specific location within the park, you mean the park as a whole.
The Conservatory of Flowers is the oldest building in Golden Gate Park.
Here, "in" is more appropriate because you're distinguishing the Conservatory of Flowers from other locations within the park. But "at" would still be correct; it would just de-emphasize the fact that Golden Gate Park is quite large. "At" leads the listener to imagine the location as if it were a single point, no matter how big it really is.
I'll meet you at the park.
Here, "at" suggests that if you both go to the park, it will be easy for you to find each other. Maybe there is an obvious location where you'd go, like the gate. Or maybe the park is small enough that you'd see each other no matter where in the park you're standing.
I'll meet you in the park.
Here, "in" suggests that you'll need to specify where inside the park you'll meet.
Let's play softball at the park.
Here, "at" is more appropriate if you mean to use the park's facilities, like a softball field. All that matters is that the park has such facilities and you intend to use them. Once you're at the park, it will be obvious where to go: the softball field.
Let's play softball in the park.
And "in" is more appropriate if the park doesn't have a softball field. This sentence suggests that you want to go to the park and search for some unoccupied grass to play softball. But in both of the last two examples, both "at" and "in" are still correct. The difference is the emphasis: the way they direct the listener's attention and imagination.
The same kinds of distinctions attend many phrases where "at" and "in" are both correct English. For example, "I'm at the Fairmont Hotel" could mean that you've booked a room at that hotel, even though you might not be physically present inside the hotel right now; or it could mean that you're physically present inside the hotel, or maybe standing just outside it. "I'm in the Fairmont Hotel" specifically means that you are physically somewhere inside the hotel right now.
More about the differences in meaning and customary usage among at, in, and on is explained in the article on "at" in Webster's Dictionary of Synonyms.
I would use "at" when referring to a location, like "the airport", "the bus stop", or "school". In my mind, it is a specific place I can go to, although that may not apply to every context.
"I'm going to the bus stop. I'm at the bus stop. I have walked to the bus that is stopped at the bus stop, and I am at the bus waiting for the doors to open."
"Where is she?"
"She is at the park."
"I'm at the park, and I don't see her."
"It's a big park. She is probably in the park somewhere."
The park is a location that both people in the conversation above know how to get to. "In the park" is somewhere inside the boundaries of the park, but isn't a location you could give someone exact directions to like "the park on Elm street".
"Where is Dad?" "He went to go grocery shopping, so he's at the market."
"Where did you find that lamp?" "I bought it at the antiques store on main street."
I bought the lamp while I was inside the store, but what the person asking the question wants to know is the location.
I would use "in" with a place that has boundaries that I know the person or thing is inside.
"Where did you park?" "I parked at the airport in lot G."
"Where is your brother?" "He's in the arcade over there. He got bored waiting for you."
In this sentence, even though I'm not currently in the airport, I was at the time that I dropped my glove somewhere inside the airport, so I use in.
"Where did you find your missing glove?" "I had dropped it in the airport."
"Where is your glove?" "I think I lost it at the airport."
I know I had my glove before leaving the airport, and I noticed it was missing after I left the airport, so it is at that general location, but I don't know if it is inside the airport or lying on the sidewalk outside the airport.
I think I would say "at" if she is significantly farther away then we are. I would say "in" if I you and I were closer to the perimeter of the park.
Consider you asking me where she is while we are home. I would say she is at the park.
Consider you asking me where she is while we are on the road surrounding the park. I would say she is in the park.
In the park is used more than at the park.
One rule of thumb is that we use in for places that have boundaries - a city for example, or a park, which is why we say "he is in Paris" and never "he is at Paris".
But... an airport has boundaries, but we often say "she is at the airport". One explanation for this, and I have tried to find the source but no luck so far, is that we can use at for locations with boundaries if they exist to perform an activity, and the activity is more important than the location. In other words, we say "at the airport" because we go there only to catch an aeroplane or meet/see off somebody else who is, and we say "at Carrefour" because we go there to buy stuff, or "at school" because we go there to learn.
Compare with the situation if you are waiting for your luggage at the carousel, or queuing at the checkout, and somebody calls to ask where you are. Then you would say "I am still in the airport" or "I am still in Carrefour" because the location has now become more important than the activity.
In practise, they are interchangeable and both correct.
However, at would be more often used in situations where you are highlighting the park from other locations where you might be.
In would imply enclosure so more likely to be used if you are describing location relative to the park specifically.
I'm in the park by the pond.
There's a gazebo in the park.
'in the park' is a location
'at the park' is more of an activity (but also could be a location)
Eg. Where is susan? She is in the park. (location) Where is Tom? He is at football training. (activity)
Eg. Bob is in the supermarket. (location) Bob is at the supermarket (activity or location or both)
Eg. I am at the hockey game (implies watching) or in the hockey game (implies playing).
I think it more depends on which type of park you are at. Like a neighborhood park (one without a restricted access) you would generally say "I am at the park". But if you are talking about a park like say a ballpark or a theme park (IE: DisneyLand, with a restricted access) you would say "I am in the park", letting them know you have entered the park. This is of course assuming a friend or parent knows what park you would be referring to.