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When referring to a non-specific instance of a place (hospital, theatre), there seems to be a strange inconsistency as to when you use the. Is there any sort of pattern, or is there any reference site that lists these out somewhat comprehensively?

American English:

  • go to the hospital
  • go to school
  • go to church
  • go to the mall
  • go to the theater
  • go to the police station
  • go to the train station
  • go to the airport
  • go to the supermarket
  • go to the post office
  • go to the market (is go to market okay in American English?)
  • go to town
  • go to college
  • go to jail
  • go to the bank

British English:

  • go to hospital
  • go to school
  • go to church
  • go to the theatre
  • go to the cinema
  • ???

This question is inspired by the conversation here: Is there a reason the British omit the article when they "go to hospital"?

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  • I think the only differences between American and British here are hospital, college, temple, and university. Commented May 24, 2014 at 17:35

1 Answer 1

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This has been much debated in postings passim, on this site.

In Britain we only say he is 'in hospital' if 'he' is a patient. If we are talking about a doctor, nurse or other employee we say 'he/she works at the hospital'.

Similarly with schools; pupils go 'to school', but teachers work at 'the school'.

With 'church' it is slightly different. If they were attending or officiating at a service, both congregation and minister would say they were 'at church'. But if someone was polishing the pews on a weekday, they would be working at 'the church'.

In other words the dropping of the article indicates a change of meaning. If I am 'at university', it means I am a student, and university is my way of life. But if I am an electrician changing the lighting in the lecture theatres, I would be working 'at the university'.

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  • Can you use the same principle for go to theatre or go to police station? Commented May 24, 2014 at 16:46
  • @Jun-Dai No, sadly not. It’s not very consistent. You don’t go to theatre at all, nor do you go to police station or go to bank or go to post office. Commented May 24, 2014 at 16:51
  • @Jun-DaiBates-Kobashigawa You might go to theatre in a hospital, but not to see a theatrical performance.
    – Frank
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 17:00
  • @JanusBahsJacquet But people do go to 'prison'. Whilst the staff work 'at the prison', or 'in a prison'.
    – WS2
    Commented May 24, 2014 at 17:47
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    "But even in America, people 'go to jail'" but they don't pass 'Go' and don't collect £200 >;-) Commented May 24, 2014 at 20:44

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