• Daniel Bullock

"He is at school" vs. "He is in school" How are they different?


school pupils, on the field, group lesson
They are at school right now

They can mean the same thing but also have different meanings, too!

To mean physically at the place, we can use both of them. There is a further nuance to this, however. If you want to specifically say that the person is inside the school building, then "in school" is the phrase to use. On the other hand, if we are referring to the person being on the school grounds, but not necessarily inside a building, then we can use “at school.”


Another use of “in school” means that the person is enrolled in the school. It doesn’t mean they are actually present in the building currently. We don’t use “at school” for this meaning. In general, the preposition “at” is used to talk about direction, rather than position inside something. Similar to school, we would also say at work, the park, or at the library.


Here are a few examples:


A: Where is James right now?

B: Oh, he’s at school


Freya will be in school for another year before graduating.

I was at the park yesterday.

Are both of these correct? “I don't know what I would do” and “I don't know what I will do"?


confused lady, not knowing what to do, palms raised, facial expression, long ponytail
If that happened to me, I wouldn't know what to do!

Both are grammatically correct. The uncertainty comes up when we think about time. “Would” means in the past, and “will” refers to the future. Therefore, I don’t know what I would do if that happened to me means something that already happened. The tricky part is we are thinking about a possible future situation connected to this.



I don't know what I will do is more straightforward. This just means in the future. There is no connection with the past like there is in the first sentence. Let’s look at some examples so that we can be totally clear.



Past + unlikely possible future scenario


I don’t know what I would do if that happened to me.

Past + unlikely possible future scenario

I don’t know what I’d do if I lost my wallet.


Future + possible scenario


I don’t know what I will do if that happens to me.

Future + possible scenario

I don’t know what I will do if I lose my wallet when I am out today.

Another example is as follows:

If I lost my job, I don’t know what I would do.

For this person, it is unlikely that they will lose their job. Maybe they have a very good employer or contract, so they use “would”.


If the person has a realistic chance of losing their job, then they should use will. For instance, they have already been warned that they might be fired. Or, their company is in a bad financial situation. They would say:

I don’t know what I will do if I lose my job. Have a look at this table for clarification:

And here is one more table to make things super clear!


Possible but unlikely

I don’t know what I would do if I lost my car key

There is a possibility

I don’t know what I will do if I lost my car key



Correct English: “I don’t know what to do other than staying silent” vs. “I don’t know what to do other than stay silent”


speaking prohibited sign. no talking, be quiet
Be quiet! We must be silent!

Yes, both of these sentences are grammatically correct. They do carry different meanings, however. Staying silent indicates a continuing period with a possible end time, whereas stay silent indicates a usual or permanent state. In a real conversation though, the meaning is almost the same A native speaker of English would use either of them interchangeably. Have a look at these conversations to see how they are used:


A: I don’t know what to do about Aria’s bad behavior, other than staying silent.

B: Well, you could gently talk to her about it?

A: Yes, that might be a good idea.


A: I saw Elijah stealing cookies from the kitchen again. I don’t know what to do other than stay silent. The B: last time I said something, he went crazy and tried to blame me.

A: It’s a difficult problem. Maybe we should tell mum about it instead of talking to him, this time.

B: Yep, I think that is the best idea.


For correct English, should I say "be silent" or "stay silent"?

man telling people to be quiet, shush gesture, finger over lips, red shirt, brown slacks, black belt, comb-over hairstyle, middle-aged man
Would you mind being a little quieter, please?

Both of these sayings are technically correct. We would say them when we want somebody or a group to be quiet. There is a difference in nuance, however. To tell someone to “stay” silent means that we would like them to remain quiet over a period of time. On the other hand, telling someone to “be” silent means right now. Also, the saying “be silent” carries a feeling of severity. It might be said by someone who is angry, or a very strict school teacher!


In general conversations, I think it is nicer to say something like: Could you be quiet, please? Or, would you mind keeping the volume down, please?


Have a look at this table which will clearly show you the difference.


Direct + keep doing

Stay silent

Direct + now only

Be silent

Direct+ polite

Could you be quiet, please?

Less direct + polite

Would you mind keeping the volume down, please?



Do students from various countries make different types of mistakes in English?


Absolutely. Each area, region, or country has its own language and dialect, which affects how they understand and speak English. Not to mention education systems are different from country to country, so the standards of teaching differ greatly. Therefore, each region has its own unique set of hurdles to overcome when learning English. Here are a few examples of differing mistakes by country. This a very much just a generalization, and is not meant to mock or criticize anyone.


1. China

Many Chinese learners confuse the pronouns she and he, her and him. They also commonly miss the “s” in third-person verbs. For instance, She likes playing soccer.


2. Spanish Speakers

Native Spanish speakers tend to overuse the future tense verb will. In English, we have a very good alternative to “will”, and that is “be going to”. Native speakers of English use both of these expressions frequently.


3. Japanese speakers


One of the common mistakes Japanese learners of English make is answering do you have questions. Many beginners of English would answer like this:


A: Do you have a pen?

B: Yes, I have.


It does seem logical to answer with the word “have”, however for English we need to answer like this:

A: Do you have a pen?

B: Yes, I do.


More English help is available here. Thanks for reading!


Daniel