Right Usage of ‘at, in and to’

At and in are generally used for position; to is used for movement or direction.

Compare:

– He works at the market.
He gets to the market by bike.
– My father lives in Canada.
I go to Canada to see him whenever I can.

Expressions of purpose

If we mention the purpose of a movement before we mention the destination, we usually use at! in before the place.

Compare:

  • Let’s go to Marcel’s for coffee.
  • Let’s go and have coffee at Marcel’s. (NOT Let’s go and have coffee to Marcel’s.)
  • I went to Canada to see my father.
  • I went to see my father in Canada. (NOTI went to see my father to Canada.)

After some verbs, at is used with the ‘target’ of a perception or non-verbal
communication. Common examples are
look, smile, wave, frown.

  • Why are you looking at her like that?
  • Because she smiled at me.

At is also used after some verbs referring to attacks or aggressive behavior. Common examples are shoot, laugh, throw, shout and point.

  • It’s a strange feeling to have somebody shoot at you.
  • If you can’t laugh at yourself, who can you laugh at?
  • Stop throwing stones at the cat, darling.
  • You don’t need to shout at me.
  • In my dream, everybody was pointing at me and laughing. 

Throw to, shout to and point to are used when there is no idea of attack.

  • Please do not throw food to the animals.
  • Could you shout to Phi! and tell him it’s breakfast time?
  • ‘The train’s late again,’ she said, pointing to the timetable.

Arrive is generally followed by at or in; never by to.

  • We should arrive at Pat’s in time for lunch. (NOT … arrive to Pat’s … )
  • When did you arrive in New Zealand? (NOT … to New Zealand?)

Look next page for at, on and in: place

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