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A friend of mine and I are having a long standing debate about the correctness of a sentence.

Informing me what he was doing later that day he said:

I am going to the Asda later.

Note: To anyone outside of the UK, Asda is a supermarket/grocery store.

I corrected him and said, "don't you mean, I am going to Asda later".

He insists that the definite article "the" is needed because he is referring to a particular Asda near where he lives.

I argued that he didn't state which Asda he was referring to (and it is not obvious to me) so therefore the definite article is incorrect. If he had said "I am going to the Asda near my house", that would make more sense.

He states that "... Asda near my house" is implied because he knows which Asda he is talking about, but I argued that I do not know which Asda he is talking about so the "... near my house" cannot be implied.

It is my (arguably limited) understanding that we don't use the definite article when referring to place names or company names (there are exceptions of course).

Incorrect usages:

  • I am going to the Germany on holiday
  • I am going to the Walmart later

But if we add the context "...near where I live", Asda becomes a noun because we are now referring to the actual store or building so the definite article is needed.

"I am going to the Asda near where I live"

So, to settle a long standing debate. If I have no knowledge of the "Asda" he is referring to, can he imply it and use the definite article "the"?

UPDATE

In response to the answers below:

Consider the following:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proper_noun

A proper noun is a noun that in its primary application refers to a unique entity, such as London, Jupiter, Sarah, or Microsoft

Asda is clearly a proper noun.

With regard to the use of definite articles and proper nouns:

http://www.mhhe.com/mayfieldpub/tsw/art-pnou.htm

In general, do not use an article with a proper noun unless the noun contains a prepositional phrase.

With the above in mind, it seems logical to me that the following statement is incorrect.

I am going to the Microsoft later.

Therefore my reasoning is that "I am going to the Asda later" is also incorrect.

"Later" is not a preposition so I believe that the only time you can use the article is when the person communicating the intent converts the proper noun into a noun i.e. place, thing.

I am going to the Asda store.

"Store" makes it a noun. As does a prepositional phrase "... near where I live".

In summary, it is my belief that:

"I am going to the Asda near where I live" is correct.

"I am going to the Asda" is not.

Happy to be wrong!

  • 1
    Your position is logical and correct. – Tristan r May 17 '14 at 22:11
  • 3
    And so is his. The fact is that the article is neither disallowed nor required in this sentence, depending on the intention of the speaker. – John Lawler May 17 '14 at 22:15
  • Thanks for the comments. Are we both correct? – Defstun May 17 '14 at 22:31
  • Defstun, I don't see how. This reminds me of the question at this link english.stackexchange.com/questions/19604/… – Tristan r May 17 '14 at 23:04
  • FWIW, "I'm going to the Walmart later" is correct, albeit rather colloquial, usage in American English. – Tatpurusha May 21 '14 at 15:39
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To my ears, go to the Asda sounds absolutely fine. But that might be because I've never heard of Asda before now. So instead, I tried dropping in the name of a grocery store I'd go to — say, go to the Publix (a chain of supermarkets in the southern United States). And it does sound strange.

But that might be because it's out of context. What if there's a Tesco a block away from the Asda and both you and your friend know this?

Let's stop and get some digestives at Asda.

We can't. They're closed.

Well, all right. Let's go to the Tesco.

If the last speaker intends for the the other to pick up on which Tesco is being referred to — and if this debate is so long-standing, perhaps your friend does have this expectation :) — perhaps this usage can be justified.

To use the technical term, a definite article triggers a presupposition, another statement that must also be true in order for the original statement to make sense. In general, a phrase like the something-or-other presupposes 1) that something-or-other exists and 2) that there's only one something-or-other. At least that's how it's usually summarized. In reality, the second part often works like so: that there's only one relevant something-or-other (e.g., go to the bank).

If that's what your friend's intention is, he may be justified in his usage. If you don't feel he could rightly assume you'd know which one, perhaps he wouldn't be justified in his usage. How's that for a copout? :)

Beyond that, I disagree with Tristan's comment above: This question is not related to the one on go to hospital. Those phrases are what Jespersen (and for all I know others) called unproductive constructions. In other words, go to hospital is a readymade construction. You can say go to school or (if you're British) go to hospital, but you can't say go to store or go to bank. (The example I remember from Jespersen is his contrasting Long live the king! with Soon come the train!) You can say go to the prison, but it doesn't mean go to prison. Ultimately, a phrase like go to the store or go to Wal-Mart is not taken off the shelf fully formed; rather, the speaker has to assemble it specifically for what he or she means.

(By the way, did you notice what I did in the second sentence of the second paragraph? Just curious.)

  • dmk, I noticed that. – Tristan r May 18 '14 at 13:48
  • Yeah I noticed! :-) Also, this was his main point, that if he had said the same sentence to his wife, she would know which Asda he was referring to so the definite article would be correct. I did not have that knowledge (at the time) so my argument was that is was incorrect to use "the" when speaking to me. Interesting stuff! I love languages. Thanks for taking the time to answer. – Defstun May 18 '14 at 14:10
  • dmk, what I meant with my comment under the question, was that it reminds me of Americans saying go to the hospital, even when they are not talking about one in particular. Like that, saying going to the Asda is not logical, when the speaker has not first established which one they are talking about. It makes me think of the obvious question, which is why have they not established which one they are talking about? – Tristan r May 18 '14 at 14:28
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Since I can't comment on the original question I'll add here. First of all I'll own up to being the antagonist here. Since Defstun just wont give it up, I'll continue!

For extra consideration :

1) Defstun's argument misses out a determiner. I propose the correct form of "I'm going to Asda" should in fact be "I'm going to AN Asda" which Im pretty sure DefStun doesn't mean either.

2) I believe "I'm going to the Asda" always infers THE ONE NEAREST TO ME. It would make no sense to talk about an Asda in Holland. This only works if Defstun is in close proximity, and we're both talking about THE one nearest to us both (DMK's presupposition and Def's Wife argument; she and I would always be talking about the closest one.)

2) Just like in Tristan's link english.stackexchange.com/questions/19604 I think the same logic applies with THE Asda. Talking about Asda is a collective noun for the company or group of physical shops that includes the one near me. I'm not going to all of them, just the one nearest where I am now. Same argument in the above link, e.g. 'Little Mark is struggling with his English, I'll go to school later' vs 'Little Mark is struggling with his English, I'll go to the school later.'. Am I to assume DefStun would still be trying to work out that a school in New Zealand might not be the one that little Mark is struggling in? (or indeed that it's not me that needs schooling?) Solving ambiguity* never was DefStun's strength.

3) @Tristan, why would I need to establish which Asda I'm talking about? I can't possibly mean anything other than the one sensibly located near where I'd go to get my fill of Pop Tarts. I'm going to Asda {in Sweden} for my Pop tarts just doesn't make sense. Isn't your hospital example supporting my argument in that the correct form should be "go to the hospital {nearest you}"?

4) I do concur that "The meaning of a communication is the response you get" [Bandler/Grinder] so in this respect I might have failed**.

5) I cant believe this argument has spilled out onto the WorldWideInterLies. All this from a guy whose northern origins means he watches StarTrek "on an evening" not "in the evening". Which evening are we talking about Def? And, why on earth are you ON it? Yet, here he is arguing about definite articles? But that's another arguement. HE'S NOT TO BE TRUSTED I TELL YOU.

Enjoy your evening sir.

(*) What happens in vagueness stays in vagueness Def old boy.

(**) No I haven't, if the response I've got is a 5 year argument that Def won't let die, I'll take that as a success ;)

  • 1
    I might also add for consideration that the fact the Asda begins with a vowel requires the to be pronounced with phonemic /ee/ to 'sound right' - "I'm going to th/ee/ Asda". However, maybe that just avoids me sounding as Yorkhire as DefStun. – robISBOLD May 20 '14 at 17:12

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