When you're talking about what hotel you stayed or are staying at, I understand the preposition of choice is "at" rather than "in." At least this is what I was taught in school and although there are a lot of counterexamples, Google basically seems to support it. However I often come across sentences of this sort using an "in," and it seems "in" is more likely when you don't specify the hotel, but I've been known to be wrong about these things.
For example, in the following pairs, 1a is more likely than 1b, whereas 2b and 3b seem to be preferred over 2a and 3a respectively. Why would this be? Also, can you suggest other examples like this where (assuming I'm on the right track) the preposition of choice depends on the definiteness of the word following it?

1a. I stayed at the Marriott in Boston.
1b. I stayed in the Marriott in Boston.
2a. I stayed at a hotel in Boston.
2b. I stayed in a hotel in Boston.
3a. I didn't have a lot to spend, so I stayed at cheap hotels. 3b. I didn't have a lot to spend, so I stayed in cheap hotels.

I apologize if this has been covered. There are so many discussions on the prepositions "in" and "at" on the archive and questions of this nature are so hard to google for that I couldn't dig up anything that deals with my current query.
Thanks,
becky
1 2
When you're talking about what hotel you stayed or are staying at, I understand the preposition of choice is "at" ... so I stayed at cheap hotels. 3b. I didn't have a lot to spend, so I stayed in cheap hotels.

The "in" versions are less likely. I think they suggest the immediate physical act of being present in the structure that happens to function as a hotel this is rather like the difference between "going to school" and "going to the school", at least in AmE. If someone was hunting you down, and you were trying to hide, and you dash into the nearest hotel, you could speak of being "in the hotel". But if you're a guest, you're at the hotel.

Steny '08!
When you're talking about what hotel you stayed or are staying at,I understand the preposition of choice is "at" rather than "in."

I'd nearly always use "at", but I don't perceive any significant difference.
Mike.
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When you're talking about what hotel you stayed or are ... in Boston. 1b. I stayed in the Marriott in Boston.

1a definitely. 1b is just wrong.
2a. I stayed at a hotel in Boston. 2b. I stayed in a hotel in Boston.

Either one.
3a. I didn't have a lot to spend, so I ... a lot to spend, so I stayed in cheap hotels.

Here I would go with 3c.
The "in" versions are less likely. I think they suggest the immediate physical act of being present in the structure ... the nearest hotel, you could speak of being "in the hotel". But if you're a guest, you're at the hotel.

I think it depends on whether it's a specific hotel or not. You're right that when speaking of current physical location, whether hiding or otherwise, one would use "in." But I think there are times when staying "in" makes sense, such as cases like "in cheap hotels" where the hotel is not named.

William R Ward (Email Removed) http://bill.wards.net Help save the San Jose Earthquakes - http://www.soccersiliconvalley.com /
1a definitely. 1b is just wrong.

To me, 1b is merely more casual, rather than wrong. I'd use either, according to circumstance and formality.
Cheers - Ian
(UK - Yorks, Hants and sometimes in Notts)
1a definitely. 1b is just wrong. Either one. Here I would go with 3c.

"3c"??
The "in" versions are less likely. I think they suggest ... hotel". But if you're a guest, you're at the hotel.

I think it depends on whether it's a specific hotel or not. You're right that when speaking of current physical ... are times when staying "in" makes sense, such as cases like "in cheap hotels" where the hotel is not named.

As an EFL/ESOL teacher may I put in MY 2 cents-worth - more to get some feedback and learn more than to try to give the "correct" answer.

IN/ON/AT < UGH! I have this all the time with my students!

Basically I define these three prepositions in the following manner (but quoting the exceptions, sub-"rules", etc) at the same time:

IN - inside (something tri-dimensional)
ON - in contact with a surface (something bi-dimensional) AT - at a defined point of an area (something uni-dimensional)

So for "cheap hotels" I would say:
"I stay at cheap hotels to save money" (uni - points on a map?) "The food in cheap hotels is usually bad" (tri - food inside the hotels?)
And, following MY (fawlty towers - just call me Manuel) logic I would vote for 1a, 2a, and 3a.
Here follows the BASIC grammar sheet that I use to explain the difference between these prepositions when used to express location. As it is used with "starter" students, and the grammatical nuances of these English prepositions are not easy to follow, I explain the usage in Portuguese.
I have TXTed it from a DOC so it lost all it's columns, etc but is still readable.

==

GRAMMAR SHEET: PREPOSITIONS OF LOCATION (PLACE) - IN, ON, AT
IN = 1. dentro de (algo TRIdimensional)

2. em uma área (bairro, cidade, estado, país, etc)

The book is IN the car.
The table is IN the room.
She swims IN the water.
I saw her photograph IN the newspaper.
He is IN hospital.
She stayed IN bed.
She likes to shop IN the city centre.
Liverpool is IN the county of Merseyside.
Merseyside is IN the west of England.
England is IN the continent of Europe.
Europe is one of the 5 continents IN the world.
The world is somewhere IN the universe.
ON = 1. em contato com uma superfície (algo BIdimensional)
2. numa área que lembra a forma de uma linha(praia, costa, estrada, rua, etc)
The book is ON the bed.
The map is ON the wall.
The pencil is ON the floor.
Pamela is sitting ON the horse.
The boys are ON the beach.
Bahia is ON the east coast of Brazil.
However:
(US) Her house is ON Oxford Street.
(UK) Her house is IN Oxford Street.
Special Expressions:
I watched the programme ON television (the television screen). I am talking to my sister ON the phone.
AT = 1. num determinado ponto de uma área (algo UNIdimensional)
2. em (acompanhado de números de endereço, i.e. específico)
3. numa área dentro de outra maior

There is a man AT the door.
She is AT the bus stop.
He is sitting AT the table.
She buys her clothes AT the shopping centre.
I work AT the local bank.
I live AT 22 Main Street. (specific address)
The doctor works AT a hospital IN Liverpool
área menor área maior
Special Expression: They study AT HOME. (em casa)
Now let's practice!
We are ON the phone to my mother, who is AT home, to tell her that we are AT the hospital IN Liverpool to visit a friend who is IN the hospital ON the casualty ward!
When I am AT work I sit AT a desk IN the accounts department of a local store AT a shopping centre IN the centre of the city of Liverpool, which is ON the west coast of England IN the UK.

==

"Shields Up, Mr. Worf" - Let the stone-throwing begin...

Paulo
- up IN the mountains about 250km west of Rio de Janeiro - sitting AT his computer which is ON the desk
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I agree.
"at" is the default preposition.
"in" should only be used when the utterance underscores physical presence (as opposed to symbolic or legal aspects, for example).

Another example in which "in" is preferable is when you are inviting a romantic interest to meet you at the hotel you are staying in. Joseph
Another example in which "in" is preferable is when you are inviting a romantic interest to meet you at the hotel you are staying in. Joseph

Now THIS one intrigues, and excites, me! :-)
I MUST know more about THIS one!
Never know when it might come in handy!
Wouldn't want to get it wrong...
...and spoil my chances!
Specific examples, PPPLLLEEEAAASSSEEE!
For example:
"Could I meet you in the hotel?"
"Could I meet you at the hotel?"
Is there a difference here?
(This is NOT an idle question - Carnaval starts in 9 days time down here and there'll be lots of foreign visitors in town and I'll be doing my "can I help you" bit in Rio. So this is IMPORTANT for the romantic success of my Carnaval - Please help!)

Paulo
- hoping to meet IN and not AT ;-)
For example: "Could I meet you in the hotel?" "Could I meet you at the hotel?" Is there a difference here?

The first difference is literal.
Meeting at the hotel could include in patio outside the hotel. Meeting in the hotel means, specifically, within the structure.

The second difference is suggestive.
Meeting at the hotel suggests you are planning on going elsewhere. Meeting in the hotel suggests that the hotel is the terminus.

The final difference is more vaguely suggestive.
Specifically, "in" sounds more familiar than "at".

(Compare: "Do you know this girl?" vs. "Do you know that girl?" The former sounds like you asking your friend if he can introduce you to a girl you desire.
The latter sounds like your girlfriend asking you about the girl who just winked at you.)
Consider the statements "Shall we meet in the hotel?" to "Shall we meet at the hotel?":
The physical presence implied by the preposition "in" lends itself better to the double entendre reading: "Shall a body part of mine touch a body part of yours, in the hotel?"
(This is NOT an idle question - Carnaval starts in 9 days time down here and there'll be lots of ... I help you" bit in Rio. So this is IMPORTANT for the romantic success of my Carnaval - Please help!)

Then it's no time for experimentation! Just use "in" consistently, and let language mavens be damned. ;^)
Joseph
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