Close icon
Answered: Is it “at the meeting” or “in the meeting”? 🤷‍♂️
Blog

Answered: Is it “at the meeting” or “in the meeting”? 🤷‍♂️

Both are correct, but which you use changes the meaning slightly

November 17, 2020
Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

Is it at the meeting, or in the meeting? That is the question. 

The answer depends on the context. 

If you mean to refer to the meeting as a location, you use “at a/the meeting.” If you mean to refer to the meeting as an activity without specifying location you use “in a/the meeting.” But there is an exception to the location rule

That is, if you’re referring to a specific location relative to a larger location, you use “in a/the meeting.” In this exception, you assume (based on context) that the person you’re speaking to 1) wants to know specifically where you or someone else is and 2) knows where “the meeting” is. 

Confused? Let’s clear it up with a quick review of a few basic rules governing prepositions, like “at” and “in”, followed by a few more examples. 

Time and Place and The Rules of At vs. In

Forget about the specific context of meetings for a minute.

There are broad grammatical rules that govern using “at” vs. “in” and understanding them will help you program the correct use of “in” vs. “at” into your brain. These rules have to do with whether you’re referring to time or place.  

Take the following sentences, for example:

Sentence #1: In the debate between Apple and Windows users, those who prefer elegant design praise Apple’s vision.

Sentence #2: At the debate between Apple and Windows users, those who prefer elegant design praised Apple’s vision. 

Notice how, just by changing the preposition from “in” to “at” in the preceding sentences, you change the meaning of the word “debate”? 

In the first sentence, the use of the preposition “in” tells the reader that “debate” is occurring over a non-specific period of time. Location is not specified and time is assumed to be non-specific and ongoing. 

In the second sentence, it’s assumed the author is talking about a concrete event, “a debate.” This assumption is safe because “at” implies location. And by specifying location, you imply that the event is taking place over a fixed period of time. 

Examples of “In the meeting” vs “At the meeting”

Now imagine you’ve been too preoccupied with meetings to respond to your boss. 

She asks, “Why haven’t you responded to my emails?”

You respond: “I’ve been in meetings all day.”

Now imagine the same scenario, except in this case, you know that your boss knows you had a long, important meeting. And you want to remind her that you had a good reason not to respond. 

She asks, “Why haven’t you responded to my emails?”

You respond: “I was at the meeting.”

As you can see, whether you use “in” or “at” depends on whether you’re telling someone where you were or what you were doing. 

And again, it also depends on your audience’s knowledge.

In the second example above, since your boss knows there was a long meeting, telling her where you were (at the meeting) also implies you were doing something that justifiably prevented you from responding. 

But again, there’s an exception if you’re referring to a location within a location. For example, if you know your boss is in the same building as you and she wants to know where you are, you’d tell her you’re “in the meeting.”

Of course, this assumes your boss knows 1) that there is a meeting and 2) where the meeting is being held.

Bonus Grammar Rule: On or In the Agenda

“On the agenda” or “in the agenda” can both be right, depending on the circumstance. For example:

“The climate change plan is on the agenda.”

Or:

“The climate change plan is in their agenda.”

The preposition “in” is used for general references to time and place while “on” is used for more specific references. 

In other words, use “on” when you mean “agenda” in the specific sense of the word, i.e. a list of items to be discussed at a meeting. 

And use “in” when you mean “agenda” in the general sense, i.e. the underlying intentions or motives of a person or group.

Sick of grammar yet? Try focusing on these tried and true methods to improve team communication.

Vital Meetings
Vital Meetings
A methodology for amazing meetings. Say goodbye to boring, long, and unproductive meetings.
Get it
Rob Lennon
Customer Education Lead at Hugo
Marketer and author with experience spanning a diverse 16 years in retail and SaaS startups across healthcare, mar-tech, and ad-tech, and productivity software sectors.

Want more productive meetings?

Let Hugo help with agendas, note-taking & tasks

Get Hugo Free

Connect your calendar, invite your team and experience better meetings in minutes