English English language Etymology Expression Grammar Phrase origin Usage Word origin Writing

Arrival time

Q: Reading “arrived to” drives me nuts. Why not “arrived at”? When did this start?

A: People used to arrive “at,” “in,” “into,” “on,” “to,” and “upon” their destinations. It wasn’t until the 1700s that language commentators began expressing preferences for one preposition over another.

Today, we usually arrive “at” or “in” when we’re referring to the literal arrival at a destination, though “on” and “upon” are often seen.

And literary writers routinely use a wide variety of prepositions when the verb “arrive” is used figuratively or to emphasize something other than the point of arrival.

We may arrive “by” boat or c-section, “from” Kalamazoo, “out of” the hinterlands, “on” the dock, “upon” the scene, and so on. Here’s the story.

English adapted the verb “arrive” in the 12th century from the Old French ariver, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, but the ultimate source is the classical Latin phrase ad rīpam (to the shore).

When the verb showed up in Middle English, it reflected its Latin origin and meant to bring a ship to shore or come to shore by ship, according to the OED.

The dictionary’s first example is from Layamon’s Brut, a Middle English poem written sometime before 1200: “Nu beoð of Brutaine beornes ariued” (“Now are the barons of Britain come to shore”).

The next citation is from The Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester (1297): “Þat folc of Denemarch …. aryuede in þe Norþ contreye” (“That people of Denmark came to shore in the North country”).

It wasn’t until the late 1300s that the verb “arrive” broke free of its nautical roots and meant “come to the end of a journey, to a destination, or to some definite place; to come upon the scene, make one’s appearance.”

The earliest example in the OED is from The House of Fame (circa 1384), a Middle English poem by Chaucer: And with this word both he and y / As nygh the place arryved were / As men may casten with a spere.” (We’ve expanded the citation.)

Around the same time, the verb “arrive” came to mean to reach a position or state of mind, as well as to gain or achieve something.

The earliest OED citation for these wider senses is from Confessio Amantis (circa 1393), a Middle English poem by John Gower (note the preposition “to”):

“When the tirant Leoncius / Was to thempire of Rome arrived, / Fro which he hath with strengthe prived / The pietous Justinian.” (Leontius overthrew Justinian in 695 to become the Byzantine emperor. We’ve expanded the OED’s citation.)

The verb has taken on several other senses over the years, including “to come to pass” (1633, as in “misfortune arrived”), “to be born (1761, as in “the baby arrived), and “to be successful” (1889, as in “with the Oscar, she finally arrived”).

The OED considers the use of “into” and “to” with “arrive” obsolete now, but Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage cites modern literary examples for both prepositions, especially in figurative senses. Here are a few citations:

“Neighbors arrive into what is already a madhouse scene” (Elizabeth Bowen, in the March 9, 1953, issue of the New Republic).

“Power arrived to them accidentally and late in their careers” (from Hilaire Belloc’s 1930 biography of Cardinal Richelieu).

As we’ve said, “at” and “in” are the two most common prepositions when “arrive” refers to reaching a literal destination.

The online Cambridge Dictionary explains that “at” is used for reaching a specific point, while “in” is used for reaching a larger area.

Cambridge cites two examples from English Grammar Today (2016), by Ronald Carter, Michael McCarthy, Geraldine Mark, and Anne O’Keeffe:

We arrived at the art gallery just as it was closing. (The gallery is seen as a point.)”

Immigrants who arrived in the country after 2005 have to take a special language test. (The country is seen as a larger area.)”

Help support the Grammarphobia Blog with your donation
And check out our books about the English language.