A friend and I were discussing our philosophy class a while ago, and somehow we got onto the subject of the properties of things and the definition of a place. We began to argue about whether you can be in an object or in a place. I said that you can only be in an object and to be in a place is impossible. But you can be at a place. Example: you are in the building, but you are at the DMV. She said the opposite. That it is possible to be in a place. Who is correct?

The in/at variation is a convention of the English language and has no equivalent in many other languages. It seems to mark no significant underlying distinction, and your question is then one about proper English.

Understood in this spirit, I would say that you are both right. With some places we use "at", with others "in". Consider two buildings, for example, my school and my house. One could say that I am in the first building or at school. And one could say that I am in the second building, or in my house, or in my home, or at home, or at my place.

I assume a grammarian could give you a general rule about when we use "in" and when "at". But, as my example shows, this rule cannot draw on the type of location alone.

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