When talking about going to a local bar one person says, "Let's go to 1020!"
The other says, "Let's go to the 1020!"

The first statement without an article seems correct. Yet, by comparison, "Let's go to the supermarket" seems correct, while "Let's go to supermarket" doesn't seem correct.

What rule is at work here?


I think that generally, if you use a proper noun, that takes the place of "the".

Let's go to Joe's bar.


Let's go to the bar.


Let's go to a bar.

If the name (proper noun) of the bar is "The 1020", use it in full

Let's go to The 1020

If the name is "1020" without "the", but you have a choice of several nearby bars you could say

Let's go to the 1020 bar.

If "1020" was the name of a hotel that had one bar you might use the above construction also.

  • In the case of the name being The 1020 "the" isn't exactly an article, not in the same way that "the" is an article in the Queen of England. It would likely entail capitalization as part of a proper noun; i.e. it would be incorrect to not capitalize 'the' in the name of the musical band The Four Tops. – mfg Apr 15 '11 at 15:42
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    @mfg: thanks, I've changed "the 1020" to "The 1020" in the answer to make this slightly clearer. – RedGrittyBrick Apr 15 '11 at 16:22

Although there isn't really a hard fast rule, the article usage more than likely comes from proper noun usage versus general noun:

  • I gave the gift to a/the boy
  • I gave the gift to Michael

  • Let's go to a/the bar
  • Let's go to 1020

In your example, 1020 is (presumably) a proper noun, and does not require an article of address as it indicates a specific, singular entity. The second case, with "the", is adding a certain formality to the use; in all likelihood a colloquial, rather than functional, one. Verbally ironic examples might be akin to over formalizing something.

An example like "Let's go to McDonald's!" toys with the lack of a rule here, however. It might include 'a' or 'the' as it is not necessarily singular or specific, and any combination of usage would acceptable: "{ ~ | a | the } McDonald's."

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    I hear "let's go to the McDonalds" in rural areas and small towns, probably because there's only one. – mfe Apr 15 '11 at 15:32
  • @mfe True, I tried adding some play on that to address the inconcsistent usage – mfg Apr 15 '11 at 15:43
  • @mfe A brand name like McDonald's kind of straddles the line between proper and improper noun, in that 'McDonald's' is not really a particular place. There are lots of McDonald's restaurants around, in the same way that there are lots of bars around. If there are seven McDonald's within 15 miles, but one of them is 150 yards away at the end of the block, then that particular one is the McDonald's. – DCShannon May 9 '15 at 0:19

This difference is a matter of regional variation. For example, in California we refer to a freeway either by its memorial name or number. With its proper name we use "the," as in "everything is backed up on the Nimitz." In northern California, we don't with the state or federal number: "everything in backed up on I-880 right now." But in southern California they put "the" in front of both. "It is jammed on the 405 and the Hollywood Expressway, but smooth sailing if you're heading eastbound on the 10."

It seems to me as we go east in the state, more people "go to coffee," where "coffee" has the sense of a proper name or definite place. On the coast, we go to Starbucks or Peet's, but if the place is indefinite we go get some coffee. Both are understandable. The alternate form may sound out of place, but usually goes without notice.

"Go" in a broader sense also gets used a lot. In my experience it's more common in Ohio and to the southeast: "I'll give you three dollars for that Dale Earnhardt commemorative dish." "If you go [to] four dollars and I'll give you two." Or "let's go to 3 o'clock" for some activity. I can't say I even notice it anymore, unless I'm thinking about it.

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