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“At the meeting” or “in the meeting”? Main Differences

Learn when to use “at the meeting” vs. “in the meeting” to sound more professional and become a better communicator at work!

By Hannah Sheehan  •   May 24, 2022  •   6 min read

You’ve probably heard people say both “in a meeting” and “at a meeting” before. But have you ever wondered which is the correct statement? The answer is both. Both “in the meeting” and “at the meeting” are correct statements, however, the two prepositions actually do convey two different meanings. 

So, keep reading to discover the differences between “in the meeting” vs. “at the meeting” and when to use each… 

“At the meeting” vs. “in the meeting”

At the meeting” should be used when referring to a specific location. In this sense, you’re conveying that you’re physically at the meeting, wherever it may be. For example, “I could not answer your phone call because I was at a meeting.” This example lets us know that you were physically at a meeting and were therefore unable to take the phone call. 

In the meeting” should be used when referring to the activity of meeting. In this sense, you’re conveying that you are participating in a meeting. For example, “I missed your Zoom call because I was in a meeting.” This example lets us know that you were participating in the activity of a meeting, but we do not know where this meeting was. 

Now that you’re getting the hang of the differences between “at” (location) and “in” (activity), it’s time to look at the exception—you knew it couldn’t be that easy! 

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✨The exception✨

The exception to the location/activity rule is if your sentence conveys that you’re at a location within a larger location. Confused? Let’s look at some examples:

  • If you’re working at an office with all of your team members, thus, everyone is in the same building, you would say, “I am in the meeting.” This is because whoever you’re speaking to knows that there’s a meeting and knows where the meeting is. 
  • Meetings aside, another example is if you were looking for your computer with someone in a boardroom. You would then say, “my computer is hiding somewhere in this boardroom.” Again, “in” is used because you’re conveying that your computer is in a location within a larger location. 

Examples of “at the meeting” 

Let’s explore some more examples:

Example 1

Your manager emails you an urgent message. However, you don’t see it because you were at a meeting. So, you reply saying, “sorry for the late reply. I was at a meeting.” This lets your manager know you were physically at a meeting.

Example 2

You have plans to meet your coworker via Zoom. You join a few minutes late, and your coworker asks, “what took you so long?” You reply by saying, “I was at a meeting.” This lets your coworker know that you were physically at a meeting, causing you to be late.

However, if the situation slightly changes, so does the phrase you would use. For example, if you have plans to meet your coworker at their desk before heading out for lunch together, and you arrive a few minutes late, prompting your coworker to ask, “what took you so long?”, you would reply, “I was in a meeting.” Although you’re conveying that you were in a specific location, you were in a location within a larger location (the meeting room within the office building), so you would use “in a meeting” instead of “at a meeting.”

Examples of “in the meeting”

Now let’s explore some examples of “in the meeting”:

Example 1

Your boss sends you a feedback form to fill out. They expect a quick reply, but you were in a meeting, so you don’t get to it as promptly as possible. After the meeting, you reply to your boss, saying, “sorry, I was in a meeting.” In this example, you’re conveying to your boss that you were participating in the activity of a meeting without referring to a location.  

Example 2

You pass your coworker as you quickly run down the hallway of your office. They stop you and ask, “where are you headed in such a hurry?” You reply by saying, “I’m supposed to be in a meeting right now!” While you’re conveying that you’re supposed to be in a specific location, you use “in a meeting” because you’re referring to a location within a larger location—a meeting room within an office.  

Test your knowledge

Are you ready to test your knowledge and see if you know when to use “at a meeting” vs. “in a meeting”? Fill in the blank with “at” or “in,” then scroll to the bottom of this blog to find out if you were correct!

Question 1

Your coworker asks you to review a slide deck they created as soon as possible, but you missed their email because of a meeting. Conveying that a meeting physically occupied you, you reply, “sorry, I’m just seeing this now. I was ___ a meeting.”

Question 2

Your boss comes into your office and asks you why you haven’t sent them your report yet. You’re in the same office, but you were physically occupied by a meeting in the room next door. Conveying that you have yet to send your report because of the meeting, you reply, “sorry, I was ___ a meeting.” 

Question 3

You receive a Zoom call from your coworker, but the activity of another meeting occupies you. Because of this, you decline their Zoom call and send them a message saying, “sorry, I cannot connect right now. I am ___ a meeting.”

Parting advice

While using the wrong preposition (“at” or “in”) may not seem like a big deal, these prepositions have two different meanings and using the correct one in the correct context will help you avoid miscommunications. Knowing your grammar will also make you sound more professional in the workplace. 

So, next time you’re unsure if you should use “at the meeting” or “in the meeting,” determine whether you’re conveying a location or activity. And don’t forget the exception!

P.S., check below to see if you answered correctly!!👇👇 

Question 1: Answer = “At a meeting” 

Question 2: Answer = “In a meeting” 

Question 3: Answer = “In a meeting”

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