Should You Use Within or In? Learn the Basic Difference

, Staff Writer
Updated June 2, 2021
within vs in example
    within vs in example
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English has rules. Lots of rules! Learn the rules of prepositions and how subtle they might be by exploring when to use “in” and “within.” Then, clear example sentences will illustrate how to use these words correctly.

Becoming the Master of the Prepositions “In” and “Within”

Should you use “in” or “within”? That is an amazing question. In most circumstances, it’s not going to be a noticeable error if you choose “in” over “within” or vice versa. The reasoning is both “in” and “within” are prepositions that show a spatial relationship between words, typically a noun and pronoun. They can be used to link phrases and nouns.

For example:

  • Maria is running in the gym.
  • She was hiding within the box.
  • I was stuck within the car.
  • I’m in the house.

Knowing how they are used is the first step. Now, you can find out about those special situations where “in” will sound better or make more sense than “within.”


When to Use “Within” vs. “In”

Now the big question, how do you know which one to use and when? Most of the time, you can use the two words interchangeably; however, “within” and “in” do have a few subtle differences that make one choice better than another.

  • Use “in” to show something definite, to substitute into and for inclusion.
  • Use “within” for an estimate or to show something inside boundaries.

Sometimes explanations are as clear as mud. Use examples to really straighten this out.

How to Use “In” for Sentences

Since “in” is the more diverse of the two words, it is the clearer choice in most situations. Use the examples to see how “in” is used for inclusion, for a definite location and to substitute for “into.”

For inclusion:

  • Mathew is in the army.
  • Beth is in the choir.
  • McKayla is in drama.
  • Did you know Darynle was in the navy?
  • She is in the physics club.

“In” is showing that these people are included in some type of group.

For something definite:

  • The keys are in my bag.
  • The salad is in the bowl.
  • We live in Wisconsin.
  • My bag is in the house.
  • I need that bag in six days.
  • You are in trouble.

As you can see, the use of "in" shows something definite, like a definite location or a definite state of being, like being "in trouble."

Substitute for "into":

  • Come on in my office.
  • Go jump in the river.
  • I went running in Sarah’s study.
  • They all got in the boat
  • The dog went running in the garden.

For each sentence, “into” could be substituted for “in” like:

  • Come on into my office.
  • Go jump into the river.

Examples of When to Use “Within” in a Sentence

While “in” can be definite, "within" offers a little more wiggle room or an estimation. It doesn’t clarify a definite time frame or location but provides boundaries.

Time examples:

  • Please get that back to me within a few days.
  • We will be there within two hours.
  • You need to go to the store within that time frame for the sale.
  • Two days was within the time frame you gave me.
  • Monday is within the sale period.

While there isn’t a definite time frame, "within" lets the reader know that you are falling inside of the boundaries set. This works for location too.

Location examples:

  • You can’t have dogs within the fenced area.
  • Water bottles aren’t allowed within the event perimeter.
  • I’m somewhere within the lobby of the theater.
  • Don’t store cleaning products within the reach of dogs.
  • I’m within the C block of the parking lot.

Again, "within" is confining the subject of the sentence or setting clear boundaries.

Theoretical boundary examples:

  • Not every child thinks within those parameters.
  • Mary can't help that she thinks within the box.
  • Creativity can’t just be explored within certain limits.
  • Within her imagination, there are characters beyond your wildest dreams.
  • Art doesn’t fall within boundaries; it flows.

These aren’t physical boundaries being set. But, they are still boundaries that are being pointed out.


Keeping It Simple

If in doubt about whether to use “in” or “within,” you can usually use “in” and the sentence makes sense. That is because "in" can usually be used interchangeably in most sentences where "within" is a better choice, like:

  • Her dreams are within reach. (correct)
  • Her dreams are in reach. (correct)

However, "within" will not fit in some situations where "in" is used:

  • You’re within trouble. (incorrect)
  • You’re in trouble. (correct)

That’s because of the estimation quality of the word "within." So if you're in doubt, give “in” a try.

It’s All About Usage

Some words in the English language have very subtle differences. Knowing when to use one over the other can be a balancing act. This is very true of “in” and “within.” However, you did very well sorting them out. To learn more about prepositions, you can look at this list of common prepositions. You might find out that "along" is your new favorite word.