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I'm trying to say "If I could study at any university ..." I thought it would be "Si je pourrait étudier à n'importe quelle université ..."

However when I put it in Google Translate, and search for the phrase on Linguee it comes out as "étudier dans n'importe quelle université" Why is "dans" used here? Is this an example of some general rule or does it depend on the noun?

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  • 3
    Does this answer your question? « Dans mon collège » ou « à mon collège »?
    – Reyedy
    Jun 9, 2020 at 7:11
  • Please note that the duplicate I gave does not give a general rule but helps you understand the specific university/school example.
    – Reyedy
    Jun 9, 2020 at 7:12
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    Note the right form for the verb should be si je pouvais
    – Greg
    Jun 9, 2020 at 7:32

2 Answers 2

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Not native speaker. For questions like this DeepL may come in handy: https://www.deepl.com/fr/translator

Si je pouvais étudier dans n'importe quelle université. (Attention after si comes either présent/passé composé (present perfect), imparfait (imperfect) or plus-que-parfait (pluperfect) in conditional phrases.) See: https://www.lawlessfrench.com/grammar/si-clauses-conditionals/

The question of when to use either 'à', 'dans' or another French preposition for conveying the English prepositions 'at', 'in', 'on' and the like is very complicated to be treated here. As far as I know there is no one-to-one correspondence. Depending on the context 'in', 'on' and 'at' may be conveyed by various prépositions (à, dans, en,...) and phrases.

In general, one may use 'dans' in order to convey the idea of "enclosed by" as in

Dans un compartiment, dans une boîte, dans un fauteuil...

or in structures with a definite article as in

Dans le bateau, dans l'histoire, sortir dans la rue

or when the noun is qualified as in

dans une grande prison, dans n'importe quelle université

See, e.g.:

[1] « Dans mon collège » ou « à mon collège »?

[2] https://www.clozemaster.com/blog/french-prepositions/

[3] https://www.lepointdufle.net/p/prepositions.htm

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- À : temps et lieu : à 6h, à Genève, 
- À : Appartenir (belong) c'est à Marie (ça lui appartient, c'est à moi (it belongs to me)
- C'est pour Marie => c'est prévu pour elle
- C'est pour ouvrir la porte => c'est utilisé dans le but d'ouvrir la porte

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