The Problem With Prepositions
Prepositions have proved to be frustrating bedfellows for students of English. Many languages, such as German, are overall very definitive about their usage of prepositions, with almost no exceptions. However, it can sometimes seem as if the English language generates its own exceptions at leisure. Perhaps most common of all is the quandary regarding the prepositions "in" and "inside"--how can one discern between the two?
It would be perfectly acceptable, for example, for me to write both "I am in the house" and "I am inside the house." However, if I were to say that I were "inside Hell," or "I am inside a bad place," the sentence does not quite ring true.
Fortunately, there is a fairly reliable rule that one can lean on when grappling with this strange construction. The preposition "inside" is effectively a preposition of extreme precision--that is, more precise than its cousin "in." Whereas "in" is a highly ambiguous preposition, meaning associated with, within the interior of or among, "inside" refers to a concrete, non-abstract entity. Hell, for example, is an abstract entity in English--it is written about as if it were not quite real or indeed existing elsewhere. The same goes for "a bad place," meaning a precarious emotional state--it is an abstract situation intangible to the observer. In these cases, the more ambiguous preposition "in" must be used, to suit the ambiguous nature of the noun itself.