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I have seen "에/에서" being used to express "at, in, on." It seems like "에/에서" can be used to express a location without any specific indicators like, "앞, 뒤, 옆, 안, etc."

How are 에, 에서 used differently without and with specific location indicators? If they can be used interchangeably, is there a difference in intent?

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Generally,

  1. To indicate a noun is a place in which an action takes place, use 에서. Examples:

    • 아침에는 학교에서 공부하고, 낮에는 카페에서 수다 떨고, 저녁에는 집에서 잠을 잡니다.
      (I study in school in the morning, chitchat in a cafe in the afternoon, sleep at home at night.)
    • 여기서(= 여기에서) 기다려. (Wait here.)
  2. To indicate that a noun is a place an action starts from, use 에서. Examples:

    • 어디서 (= 어디에서) 오셨어요? - 부산에서 왔어요.
      (Where are you from? - I came from 부산.)
    • 그럼 집에서 가는 거야? - 아니, 퇴근하고 회사에서 가지.
      (Then will you be going there from your home? - No, I go there from my work, after work.)
    • 화재는 옆집에서 퍼지기 시작했다.
      (The fire started to spread from the neighbouring house.)
  3. If the noun is the destination of the action, use . Examples:

    • 학교에 가다 (To go to school)
    • 집에 갈래. (I wanna go home.)
    • 어디 가세요? - 마트에 가요. (Where are you going? - I'm going to the supermarket.)
  4. To indicate a noun is the date/time the predicate happens on/at, use . Examples:

    • 토요일에 만나요. (Meet me on Saturday.)
    • 다음에 얘기하자. (Let's talk about it next time / some other time.)
    • 전시회는 10월 24일에 열립니다. (The exhibition is on October 24th.)
    • 친구랑은 7시에 보기로 했어요. (I'm supposed to meet a friend at 7.)
    • Exception: use 지금, 오늘, 어제, 내일, etc. instead of 지금에, 오늘에, 어제에, 내일에.
  5. In other cases where you would use prepositions like at, in, on, to in English to indicate a noun is a place somehow related to your sentence, use .

Above rules are only general rules, meaning they will apply well on most cases, but there could be exceptions. Let me give you an example.

나는 지금 집에 있어. (I'm at home right now.)

is the place where 있다 takes place, so you could guess you should use 에서, but you have to use in this case. Whenever the verb is 있다, then use instead.

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'에' and '에서' are different words, but sometimes they can be used interchangeably because they have same meaning under the limited situation. If they are used interchangeably, there is no difference in intent. (Some people say there is difference but we don't normally distinguish them.)

for example

집에서 출발 (departure from home)
학교에 도착 (arrival at school)
They are totally different, right? That kind of thing.

나는 집에 산다. (I live at my house.)
나는 집에서 산다.(I live at my house.)
Like this, sometimes we use interchangeably.

So I recommend you to study dictionary of '에' and '에서'. Don't think the two words at the same time. They are different words so you have to study independently. I mean, don't make a relation of the two words. They look similar but they are different words, like 'desert' and 'dessert'.

'에서' 뜻 : http://krdic.naver.com/detail.nhn?docid=26445700
'에' : http://krdic.naver.com/detail.nhn?docid=26411800

I tried to explain them here, but it's too much to do for free. So if there are some trouble during your study about them, ask again please.

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There are some good detailed answers already, but I would summarize it as:

denotes motion towards a place, and location of things (including abstract things, like times).

가다 - To go home
그림이 벽 걸려 있다 - the picture is hanging on the wall
내일 오후 전화할게요 - I'll call you tomorrow afternoon

에서 denotes motion from a place, and location of actions.

에서 오다 - To come from home
도서관에서 공부하다 - To study at the library.

I'm sure there are lots of other special cases, but I think that's a useful simple way to think about it. I don't recommend trying to equate either to the meanings of particular English prepositions, as there isn't a very tidy 'mapping' between them.

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