Grammar Tip – At Versus In

BizWritingTip reader: “I have a grammar question that arose when I reviewed a business document. The author used the preposition ‘in’ before all place names, e.g. ‘in Vancouver,’ ‘in Whistler.’ I think it should be ‘at.’ Am I correct?”

BizWritingTip response: This is another tricky – often confusing — grammar question. I want to agree with you, but I need the rest of the sentence.

“At” should be used when referring to specific locations. “At” paints a visual picture of a setting.

Examples (specific locations)

I was at the dentist’s this morning. I would rather have been at the beach.

The numbers should be placed at the bottom of the page.

I was seated at the rear of the plane.

Therefore, if the sentence read “The conference will be held in Whistler.” This would be wrong. It must be “The conference will be held at Whistler.”

“In” is used when referring to a large place, a city used as a reference point, spaces, bodies of water, and arrangements of people or items.

Examples

I live in Canada. (large place)

We want to hold the event at a conference center in Calgary. (city as reference point)

Please meet us in the lobby. (space)

I prefer to swim in the Andaman Sea. (body of water)

Please line up in two rows. (arrangement)

Therefore, if the sentence read “The meeting will be held at a conference centre in Whistler.” It would be correct. Whistler is being used as a reference point for the conference centre.

Three weeks ago today, I was in Mexico (large place) on a golf course (good place) at Las Hadas (resort/specific location) in Manzanillo (city as a reference point). Envious?

  • Krista

    What about reference to a place of work, particularly when it is a large corporation? Would one say, “I work at XYZ” or “I work in XYZ”?

    • I would say, “I work at.” You are then implying a location. “I work in” implies a category or field, e.g., I work in engineering.