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I've noticed that sometimes at can be translated to "a" instead of "en," and I think that I have a pretty good idea of when to use which, but, even after doing some diligent Googling, I can't seem to figure out what the rule is, if there is any.

Examples

I went to leave my friend at the airport.

Fui a dejar a mi amigo al aeropuerto.

or

We're going through security at the airport.

Pasamos por seguridad en el aeropuerto.

Is there any rule that says when which preposition should be used?

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Make a question for each sentence:

Fui a dejar a mi amigo. ¿A dónde? Al aeropuerto.

Pasamos por seguridad. ¿En dónde? En el aeropuerto.

If you say

Fui a dejar a mi amigo en el aeropuerto.

You are saying that you left your friend somewere but in the airport as if you were using a car.

Fui a dejar a mi amigo en el coche.

You used the car to leave your friend.

And if you say

Pasamos por seguridad al aeropuerto.

You didin't passed throught security, the airport is the one who is passing throught security by your action. Or you went to the airport to get some security or picking up security.

As far as I can understand, use a if the action ends in the place or thing and en if the action occurs in the place or thing.

Fuimos a la tienda. Ends in the store

Compramos en la tienda. Happened in the store.

  • Making questions helps but you should add to the answer that there is no rule. Prepositions are like that. You should learn them by using them on sentences and not by applying rules. – DGaleano Oct 26 '15 at 13:17

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