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I am new to English language. I have seen many times when the word "in" is used to explain an area "at" is also used following it.

For example:

I am living in Tokyo at Koganey.
He is staying in Sydney at Camden.

I want to know that why it can not be written as:

I am living in Tokyo in Koganey.

Is there a rule to follow when writing like this?

I would be grateful if you could give a clear explanation about this.

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    A very good question. What about "columbia university at city of new york", "Queen's University at Kingston", "University at Albany" etc.? – learner Dec 17 '14 at 10:24
  • Is "Koganey" supposed to be "Koganei"? As a general rule, Japanese names and words that are imported into English keep their Romaji spellings, except that long vowels have a couple of different ways that they can be treated. But in either case, they're almost never Anglicized. Also things like しゃ would be spelled like "sha", not "sya". – Panzercrisis Dec 17 '14 at 18:58
  • If anything, it's a rule not to. I'd say "I live in Koganey, Tokyo." ('I am living in' is correct, but unnatural). :) – OJFord Dec 18 '14 at 5:34
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There is no rule that dictates which preposition follows another. In the case of "nested" prepositional phrases, use the word that best fits the context.

That's the easy part of the answer. The hard part is helping you understand when to use "in" vs. "at". These little prepositions typically have around one or two dozen different meanings and usages, some of them overlapping, making them notoriously easy to spell but difficult for learners to use. (For example, this site recently had a lot to say about in the park vs. at the park – neither of those is "incorrect;" they say sort of the same thing in two different ways.)

In the context of describing a physical location, the word in means, roughly, inside the confines of. Generally speaking, in the building means inside the building, while in the city means within the city limits.

In the context of describing a physical location, the word at means at the location of. Think of it as a point on a map.

Your examples gives a location within a location. When talking about a neighborhood, suburb, or district, in most cases, I would use in both times, perhaps separated with a comma:

I am living in Tokyo, in Koganey.
He is staying in Sydney, in Camden.
She is working in New York, in Manhattan.

However, when talking about a hotel or other building, I would use at instead of in:

I am living in Tokyo at my friend's house.
He is staying at the Four Seasons hotel in Sydney.
She is working in New York at an upscale restaurant on 44th Avenue.

  • 1
    And for confirmation that there's no required order of prepositions, in your last example any of the 6 possible orders is OK. One order, "on 44th Avenue at an upscale restaurant in New York" is a bit weird. It makes sense but it's an unusual order to present the information because it would make more sense to specify that 44th Ave is in New York than to specify that the hotel is in New York. And a couple of the other 5 would benefit from commas. – Steve Jessop Dec 17 '14 at 12:34
  • @Steve - Even that order would be okay with the right surrounding context. For example, you might ask me, "Have you ever been to a street called 44th Avenue?" and I might answer, "Have I ever been on a 44th? Oh, hell, yes. One of the best meals I can ever remember happened on 44th Avenue, at an upscale restaurant in New York..." – J.R. Dec 17 '14 at 13:26
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If I have understood your question correctly, the confusion is between in and at while describing city as a living place.

True, I'd use in to mention 'living' in open spaces such as cities here.

But then, I have observed (though rarest cases) that the preposition in is used to mention larger cities. And, for small places like towns, villages and small cities, using at is also evident. But anyway, standard practice is to use 'in' and not 'at' because when you use 'at', you describe some 'point' and city, by large, is an open space. Koganey is a small city in Tokyo and Camden is a small town in Sydney..

at is proper to mention some place in a city.

Good read here (note in New York).

The BBC on prepositions, clarifying all doubts here. And yes, do mark Colin's suggestion of putting two commas to have a better construction.

  • Can you give an example of at used for a town, village, or small city? – snailcar Dec 17 '14 at 12:48
  • @snailboat - It can be used stylistically by pretentious organizations to seem special. See the top-line banner here: me.utexas.edu It reads: 'University of Texas at Austin.' That's the only type of usage that comes to mind for using 'at' for a city... – MrWonderful Dec 17 '14 at 18:00
  • @MrWonderful That's also the only (non-contrived) use of "at [city]" that I can think of. I suspect that phrasing arose because if you talk about the "University of Texas in Austin", it sounds like you mean "the University of Texas (by the way, that's in Austin)" when what you actually mean is "the part of the University of Texas that's in Austin (by the way, there are parts in other cities, too)." – David Richerby Dec 17 '14 at 19:54
  • @snailboat Local newspapers here describe someone at Khavdi. Khavdi was a too small village before The Reliance Industry planted world's biggest petroleum refinery. So, whenever reporters interviewed the top personnel from the company, they'd reply that they don't live in Jamnagar (a city 45 km away from Khavdi) but they live at Khavdi so that they can easily commute to their offices. As I described it's rarest rare case I had come across. – Maulik V Dec 18 '14 at 5:31
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There's nothing wrong with in Tokyo in Koganey, except that it might be confusing, particularly if people are not familiar with the place names and their relationship.

I would say either

I live in Tokyo, in Koganey

where the comma indicates that the last phrase is an afterthought, making the sentence more precise; or

I live in Koganey in Tokyo

where it does not make any difference to the meaning whether it is parsed as [in Koganey in Tokyo] or [in [Koganey in Tokyo]].

Even clearer is

I live in Tokyo, in the Koganey district.

or

I live in the Koganey district of Tokyo.

  • The question is about the preposition! Where's the answer? – Maulik V Dec 17 '14 at 11:35
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    The question says "I want to know that why it can not be written as: 'I am living in Tokyo in Koganey.'". I think this answer addresses that well. – Max Williams Dec 17 '14 at 12:20
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I am staying in Tokyo at Koganey.

He is staying in Sydney at Cameden

Usually, when we refer to two locations/places in a sentence one after the other, we use the preposition "in" before the main/larger location and "at before the location which is smaller or shows a point in the main location. So the use of the "at" and "in" in the above sentences is correct. However, it's also correct if you use the preposition "in" before both locations but you should put a comma after the location mentioned first.

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in and at are used for similar things in regards location. Sometimes they can be more or less freely interchanged, but other times one is used more typically than the other.

For example, you generally use in with cities, states/provinces, countries (regions)

I live in London

He used to live in California

She spent a summer living in France

None of these would typically have at in them.

at is used for general locations

He is at home

She is at work

It is also used for buildings and other smaller locations (points)

He is at the movie theatre

She is at the Empire State Building

It is more ambiguous or at least either could work in between these two extremes. Regions within a city or country could be in or at, partially dependent on whether they are thought of more like a point or a region.

He is staying in Sydney at Camden

in comparison to

He is staying in Sydney in Camden

The first sounds more natural to me, but it also treats Camden more as a single point. The second one implies Camden is a region; however, it also seems to imply Sydney is part of Camden (rather than the reverse). This nesting doesn't happen with at; It would be more natural to express the second sentence as

He is staying in Camden, Syndey

at doesn't have this nesting effect. That is,

He is staying in Sydney at Camden

does not sound like Syndey is a part of Camden. This would be because at is like a point and thus can't really contain another region.

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