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I am always confused with the preposition. Can somebody point me to the material where prepositional phrase is explained?

Here is the problem I am facing currently.

This was discussed (stated/announced/said) at the last meeting when you were not present.

or

This was discussed (stated/announced/said) in the last meeting when you were not present.

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  • We should say "She is at the park." – dexterous_stranger Mar 17 '15 at 11:43
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    Not quite. (Or more to the point, not always.) Check out the answers in the post I linked to for more information. – Damkerng T. Mar 17 '15 at 12:09
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    Some prepositions overlap in meaning and be used just about interchangeably in some contexts. Your example is a good one; I think either preposition is fine there. – J.R. Mar 17 '15 at 12:56
  • I checked in www.grammarly.com, and it was complaining. It needs 'at the meeting.' – dexterous_stranger Mar 17 '15 at 13:12
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+50

It may be helpful to determine what question is being answered, literally or implicitly, by the statement. In my experience, "at" usually suggests a location while "in" suggests an activity.

By way of example, consider the following question/answer pairs:

Q: "Where is Ms. Smith?"
A: "She is at a shareholder meeting."

Q: "What is Ms. Smith doing?"
A: "She is in a shareholder meeting."

Q: "Is Mr. Johnson here?"
A: "No, he is at a meeting with a client."

Q: "Is Mr. Johnson busy?"
A: "Yes, he is in a meeting with a client."

The "in" construction avoids the issue of location altogether. Suppose you were to enter an office and ask the person at the front desk:

"Is Susan here today?"

If the person responded:

"Susan is in a meeting all day today."

that would not really answer the question. Susan might be in a meeting and still be in the office. On the other hand, if the answer was:

"Susan is at a meeting all day today."

you could be fairly certain that Susan is not in the office, but has gone to a meeting somewhere else.

  • do we say - I am working in the background. or I am working at the background. I am in the park o r I am at the park. Let's meet in the morning or at the morning. in the afternoon or at the afternoon. in the night or at the night. – dexterous_stranger Mar 18 '15 at 3:51
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    Well, @dexterous_stranger, my answer is very specific to the meeting example you provided. I can answer each of those additional examples one by one, but I can't provide a real rule that explains them all. That said, here are my answers: both "in the park" and "at the park" are correct (see the link from the first comment on your question. – Jesse Mar 19 '15 at 16:30
  • The last three should all be "in" because they refer to periods of time. "The morning," "the afternoon," and "the night" are nonspecific ranges of time. On the other hand, when referring to a specific time, use "at," as in "we will meet at 3:00." – Jesse Mar 19 '15 at 16:34
  • The first should be "in the background." I'm at a loss to explain exactly why, but that's the way it is. Perhaps it is because "the background" is an area rather than a specific point in space. Unlike "the park," where you can be either inside the park or at its boundary, there are no defining landmarks in "the background" to be "at." – Jesse Mar 19 '15 at 16:38
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Here is how these two prepositional phrases are used in contemporary American idiom when the subject is Meetings.

Is Mr Jones available?
--No, he's in a meeting.

Were you at yesterday's meeting about the Pacific-Rim marketing strategy?
--Yes. That large conference room holds quite a few people, doesn't it!

"In a meeting" means to be in the room where a discussion or presentation is ongoing, and "at a meeting" means to attend the event.

What's the difference?

The underlying idea of "at" is that one has moved one's person to the location or event in question. The underlying idea of "in" is one of simple location not involving motion or direction.

So, if someone says "he is at a meeting" the meaning is that he has gone to a meeting, and if someone says "he is in a meeting" the meaning is that he is in the midst of a group of people who are discussing something.

  • I agree that "at" involved a change in location. However I don't think "in" has anything to do with physical location. For example, I hear "in a meeting" all the time, referring to someone who is part of a meeting via teleconference. They are not "in the room" where the meeting is occurring, but at their own desk on the phone. – Gabriel Luci Apr 28 '16 at 17:57
  • I would counter that with in, there is an underlying sense of convening-at-a-place which has been extended figuratively to the virtual (work)place. I've been alive long enough to remember that virtual meetings were called teleconferences when they involved voice only. Now that we have little robots roaming about, with faces displayed on iPads, it's gone from voice-only to voice+image. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 28 '16 at 18:08
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Both in and at get used interchangeably but they can have slightly different meanings

Use at when referring to the meeting as a location.

She is at the meeting
she is attending the meeting (we do not know what her participation is)

I will be at the conference
I will be attending the conference

Use in when referring to the meeting as an action.

She is in a meeting.
she is taking an active part in a meeting

I will be in the conference
I am a participant/speaker at the conference

When referring to participation of a meeting, using at is more passive than using in

The observer countries were at the Security Council meeting
obsever countries attended the Security Council meeting

Russia and China were in the Security Council meeting
Russia and China were a part of the Security Council meeting

Notice the possible difference between

She is in a meeting at the client's offices.
She is at a meeting in the client's offices.

they could have the exact same meaning, or the first could imply "she" is being more active whereas the second may imply "she" is attending in a supporting role.

1

For the subject of attendance (physical or virtual) at a meeting, or for the contents thereof, "in" and "at" are both perfectly acceptable, and generally have the same meaning.

I might gather from the use of "in" that the meeting might be smaller than one referred to with "at", but there isn't a hard rule. That is, someone might say something "at" a meeting of a 10,000-person mob but "in" a five-person executive committee. Someone could say something "in" the mob or "at" the committee meeting as well. "At" could also suggest the final outcome or main objective of the meeting, where "in" might suggest something incidental.

However, I'll say it again: for a lot of cases, either preposition would be just fine and both would mean the same thing.

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