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Can I say : We are not in a kindergarden. Should I say : We are not in kindergarden. Does usage of 'a' refer to a bulding?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

Exactly as you noted, in this case, the use of article refers to a building.

Saying "we're not in a kindergarten" you're expressing the fact that you're not in the building itself, while saying "we're not in kindergarten" generally says you don't attend kindergarten anymore.

Another example would be:

I need to go to hospital. I'm extremely sick.


Go to a hospital and steal some syringes.

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+1 because this is generally true. However, it's possible to hear "I need to get to a hospital" when in need of medical treatment. – Irene Jan 2 '12 at 8:48
@Irene: definitely yes. I never claimed otherwise. – RiMMER Jan 2 '12 at 8:50
Not very sure of this hypothesis. Possible, though. – Kris Jan 2 '12 at 11:08
I need to go to hospital. Don't think I've ever heard anyone say this. Always the hospital or a hospital. – Phoenix Jan 2 '12 at 11:34
@Phoenix The use of the definite article with "hospital" varies across the atlantic. In the UK, an inpatient is "in hospital", while in the US the patient is "in the hospital". – phoog Jan 4 '12 at 23:46

If your monthly PTA meeting takes place in a Kindergarten, you can say: "Please, people, we're adults. We're not in kindergarten anymore."

But you cannot say: "Please, people, we're adults. We're not in a kindergarten anymore." ... Because you are still in a kindergarten.

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Obviously, your confusion seems to arise from the incorrect choice of an example (an example!).

Think of

'Quick, take him to hospital'
'Quick, take him to a hospital'

Would that make the same difference as in the above example? No. The use of some article or the absence of it always makes the same difference of stating the definite, the indefinite and the general. I do not know if any infrastructure factors are involved at all.

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Hospital is a bad example, because my English grandmother would say "after my surgery, I was in hospital for a week" while my American grandmother would say "... I was in the hospital for a week." – phoog Jan 4 '12 at 23:48
I would say both are correct, and mean different things. That doesn't make it a bad example either. :) – Kris Jan 5 '12 at 4:42
To be more specific, I meant to say that "hospital" is generally not a good example for illustrating article use, because its use with the definite article is not consistent among native speakers. A hospital probably means the same thing in both the US and the UK, but native US English speakers would not say "take him to hospital". – phoog Jan 5 '12 at 14:48

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