AS Hornby says in one of his books that we should always use the before mosque, and temple unlike church. When we go to a church for prayer, we say

I am going to church

while we say

I am going to the church

when we go to a church to whitewash it.

I thought, until I read Hornby that the same rule applied to mosque and temple. But Hornby says that we should say

I am going to the mosque

whether we are going there for prayer or not. To make it clear one should add a phrase with the sentence like for prayer or for whitewashing it.

Another British grammarian named Hewings says in his Advanced English Grammar that the same rule as that of church applies to mosque. In his opinion one should say

I am going to mosque

when he is going there for prayer and

I am going to the mosque

when he is going there for some other thing than prayer. Both are British grammarians of English. Who is to be followed, Hornby or Hewings?

  • 3
    I don't know about "mosque", but "going to temple" is certainly used in the U.S. "Going to the temple" sounds odd to me when it means "attend a religious service". And looking at the hits that Google Ngrams comes up with, it seems that "going to the temple" is often used by Christians, but "going to temple" is usually used by Jews. Nov 17, 2013 at 12:29

1 Answer 1


This is largely a question about the quirks of English usage.

Nobody would dream of saying I'm going to dentist / doctor / infirmary / academy / cathedral for either the building- or the congregation- / lesson- / treatment- sense. Contrast I'm going to hospital / school / college / university / chapel.

Hewings is trying to standardise practice so that 'going to the X' always means just visiting the particular building / other location, while 'going to X' means attending X with all the ramifications. He's trying to enforce his own prescriptive rule, whereas normal usage is far more idiosyncratic. He might even imagine that his position has some moral high ground. Nice thought, but doomed to failure.

Incidentally, the church I'm part of emphasises the 'people are the church' polyseme rather than the building one, so we are Church and we meet at 'the building' on occasion.

  • 1
    Good answer. To further complicate things, there are variations on either side of the Atlantic; Americans don't "go to hospital," for instance, whatever the reason for their visit.
    – user13141
    Nov 17, 2013 at 16:11
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    I thought the new rule was: Americans don't "go to hospital," or even go to the hospital, unless they have the correct coverage? Nov 17, 2013 at 16:20
  • Seriously, I've been in a discussion where the acceptability of 'teach school', 'teach college', 'teach kindergarten'... on both sides of the Atlantic was debated. Becoming less serious again, since 'teach science' seems an acceptable combination of verb + DO, and 'teach children science' seems an acceptable ditransitive construction, it was wondered whether "I teach children school" (or "I teach math school") (or even "I teach children math school") might be gray areas. Probably not. We're mixing senses. Nov 17, 2013 at 16:26
  • A harsh judgement on Hewings, he may have come to this conclusion after analysing numerous data, comparing situations where speakers will use the definite article and others not. I find his explanations clear, albeit not terribly in depth. And... to me "I'm going to the mosque" sounds better with the than without.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 17, 2013 at 16:49
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    @EdwinAshworth Justified or not, if someone told me, "I teach children math school," I'd think, "Good thing you're not teaching them English [school]."
    – user13141
    Nov 17, 2013 at 18:57

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