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because "in" = general and "at" = specific place and I don't think the bathroom is specific or what?

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    I wouldn't rely on a rule claiming that "in" is general and "at" is specific. "In" can be specific ("I am hiding in the closet") and "at" can be general ("I am at the university"). – Théophile Oct 5 '15 at 16:02
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    If you are speaking, you would omit "currently". It adds nothing. – Brian Hitchcock Oct 6 '15 at 7:48
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You've edited your question so I will change my answer:

If you are in the bathroom, you are standing inside the bathroom, and there is a connotation that you are using the facilities.

If you are at the bathroom, it suggests it is your location but you are not using it, possibly on your way to somewhere else. You might not even be inside - you could be just outside, the point being that it simply marks your location.

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  • Excellent and concise explanation. – Eric Hauenstein Oct 5 '15 at 15:37
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    In fact I would generally interpret "at the bathroom" as meaning "just outside" it, absent other contextual clues. Using "at" when you're actually inside feels clumsy and is unlikely to direct people to your actual location. – Timbo Oct 5 '15 at 18:58
4

In order to take care of your private businesses, you need to literally lock yourself inside the bathroom. When someone calls you while you are using a toilet or taking a shower, you don't usually say, "I am at the bathroom." You say, "I am in the bathroom."

According to Merriam-Webster, "At" is

used as a function word to indicate presence or occurrence in, on, or near

Especially when you are waiting in line to get in, you use "I am at (which means near) the bathroom".

People say I am staying at X hotel even though they sleep inside the hotel. People say I am at the party instead of in the party even though they will stay inside the place.

You cannot always say "at" is more specific than "in", or vice versa. In the bathroom is more specific in terms of meeting your needs than at the bathroom.

"He is at the table" means "He is eating at the table". In this case, at is very specific.

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    "I'm kinda busy right now" is the more polite statement. – Hot Licks Oct 5 '15 at 17:58
  • @HotLicks It depends. You don't need to be that polite to your girl/boy friend, your family members, or your friends. If my boss at work calls me, I would not use it. – user24743 Oct 5 '15 at 18:01
  • You would not use the bathroom if your boss calls? – Hot Licks Oct 5 '15 at 18:04
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    Your examples don't go quite far enough to explain the difference. In English I say "in" the bathroom because I am "in" the "room". Extending your hotel analogy I would say "I am staying at X hotel, in room 101"; and people say they are "at" a party because the party might be outdoors, you are not enclosed "in" a party but you might be "in" a kitchen party... but that's just complicating matters ;) – Tony Oct 5 '15 at 22:31
  • Some of this is idiomatic and has to be learned, example by example, and cannot be explained.  “I’m in school” (in particular, a more specific version, like “I’m in high school”, “I’m in college”, or “I’m in medical school”) means “I’m enrolled in school”; “I’m at school” means I’m currently physically present at the school building (or on campus).  “In the hospital” means “admitted”, or at least trying to get admitted; likewise, “in jail” (or prison) means incarcerated.  Conversely, “at the hospital” (or jail or prison) probably means that you’re visiting somebody who is “in” … (Cont’d) – Scott Oct 5 '15 at 23:11
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"In" is 3 dimensional; "at" is 2 dimensional. You would say "I'm at the bathroom" if the context made you think of the location of the bathroom on a plane or field or flat diagram, rather than in a building. Say you were tracing out locations on a blueprint, for instance. Or imagine that an explosion has blown apart a building, so that the rooms are now scattered over a wide area -- then if you were an investigator walking around the area, you could appropriately report that you were at the bathroom (if that's where you were).

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    This seems to be an incomplete distinction. I'm not sure dimensions really have anything to do with it. – eques Oct 5 '15 at 18:11
  • Take a piece of paper. Draw a square. Inside this, draw a circle. Is the circle "in" the square or "at" the square? – iamnotmaynard Oct 5 '15 at 20:18
  • @iamnotmaynard, it's in the square, of course. You make a good point that two dimensional figures can sometimes be containers for other two dimensional figures. Can a two dimensional bathroom be a container for a three dimensional person? – Greg Lee Oct 5 '15 at 20:33
  • We regularly use 2D boundaries for 3D objects. "I'm inside the Arizona state lines right now." "He's in the end zone." You can even describe 1D boundaries for 3D objects. "They're in the last mile of the race." "The #4 car is 9 seconds behind the #17." Conversely, I tend to say "I'm at the airport" or "at Wal-Mart" even when I'm inside a 3D structure. – MichaelS Oct 6 '15 at 20:04

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