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All the に vs で comparisons I can find discuss using them with verbs. However I recently wanted to say something like "I am alone at home", and phrased it without a verb:

家で一人です

But that got me thinking whether it could also have been:

家に一人です

because my understanding is that に is used in a similar way with ある/いる for "existence in a place".

Google has lots of results for both. Can I use either? If so, what's the difference?

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you can probably find the answer you want by searching on this site: (copy and paste full address pls) japanese.stackexchange.com/search?q=に+vs+で –  yadokari Dec 26 '12 at 18:30
    
@yadokari I already did a search, but as I said the answers are normally of the type "use に with certain verbs and で with the rest". –  Ben Dec 26 '12 at 22:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I don't see much difference between:

  • [家]{いえ}に[一人]{ひとり}です。and 家で一人です。
  • [今]{いま}、家に[独]{ひと}りぼっちです。and 今、家で独りぼっちです。
  • [今夜]{こんや}は[部屋]{へや}に一人きりだ。and 今夜は部屋で一人きりだ。

I think we tend to use で in daily conversation and に when we write when we use 一人だ/独りぼっちだ etc. to mean "alone/there's nobody else in the room/house".

However, I see a slight difference between:

  • [職場]{しょくば}に独りぼっちです。and 職場で独りぼっちです。
  • [教室]{きょうしつ}に一人です。and 教室で一人です。
  • 今、[学校]{がっこう}に一人きりです。and 今、学校で一人きりです。

I think ~~に一人/独り means "I'm (physically) alone/Nobody else is here", while ~~で一人/独り can be used for both "I'm (physically) alone" and "I'm (mentally) alone. I'm isolated. Nobody talks to me in class"...
(And I think this is why 「[最近]{さいきん}、クラスで一人です。」「このごろ、教室で[孤独]{こどく}です。」(I've been isolated and lonely in class these days) sound fine but 「最近、クラスに一人です。」「このごろ、教室に孤独です。」sound awkward.)

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Thanks Chocolate, that's helpful. (By the way, like @Flaw, I initially read your asterisks as they are used in linguistics, i.e. marking "unnatural language": linguistics.stackexchange.com/questions/338/…. The bullet points are clearer.) –  Ben Dec 27 '12 at 23:48
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Not many people know this, but if you put two spaces at the end of a line, you don't need the <br/> tag. Saves you a bit of typing. –  Troyen Dec 28 '12 at 8:17
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@Troyen: [Sorry but I always struggle with these things]Does the 2 spaces or <br/> tag stop a line break b/w bulletes –  Tim Dec 28 '12 at 10:46
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@Tim Two spaces (and a return/newline) is effectively equivalent to a <br/>. Two returns gives you the paragraph separation. –  Troyen Dec 28 '12 at 17:24
    
@Ben Oooh I see~~! Thank you (^_^)/~ –  Choko Dec 30 '12 at 23:15

I will attempt to build on from Chocolate's answer, and explain the grammar behind Chocolate's observation:

~~に一人/独り means "I'm (physically) alone/Nobody else is here", while ~~で一人/独り can be used for both "I'm (physically) alone" and "I'm (mentally) alone. I'm isolated.


In [location]に一人です, the location is an important part of the sentence; dative/locative particle に indicates the target of the verb which in this case is to exist. This means "I am existing alone at [location]" is an unbreakable(for lack of a better word) unit of meaning. This corresponds to being quite literally "physically alone".

For ~~で一人です, ~~で is an adjunct. The sentence is still complete without it. This means "I am existing alone" is one unit of meaning. Then the location is an additional incidental information. This means it is possible to first be 一人です, then the location for where it happens is incidental, including places where there are people. This is why it can be used for both "I'm (physically) alone" and "I'm (mentally) alone.

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Naruhodo~------ –  Choko Dec 27 '12 at 20:11

Treat state of being and verb uniformly, as if state of being was a verb itself. There should be no difference is using に vs で depending on verb/state of being being used. It is always the same: whether you stress "in the place X" (に) or "the way of X" (で). It is really minor difference in case of 家, but it is orthogonal to the fact if the sentence ends with a state of being or a true verb.

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Thanks for the answer. Can you think of any examples where it makes more difference so I can appreciate the nuance? –  Ben Dec 26 '12 at 17:55
    
I can't, on a spot. You have began your question with "All the に vs で comparisons I can find ..." so I think they have more examples; as I said, it doesn't matter if you do state of being or a verb; treat is as a verb (BTW you effectively used a verb since です is historically contraction of であります ;-) ). –  herby Dec 26 '12 at 21:08
    
I am wondering what I got the downvote for in this answer - there isn't anything false there, is it? –  herby Mar 30 '13 at 12:23

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