From a Raymond Murphy book on English grammar, I saw the following sentence:

I saw Sue in town yesterday, but she didn't see me.

Why is there no article before "town"?

Is the following incorrect? Why?

I saw Sue in a/the town yesterday.

  • Same reason there isn't an article in "I'm going to school" or "I was in bed".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:21
  • @DanBron but in BrEng you can say: "Tomorrow I'm going to the hospital"
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:30
  • @Mari-LouA In AmE, you must say "I'm going to the hospital". In BrE, you can say "She is in hospital".
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:31
  • Thank you for the speedy endorsement; however, it has only been five minutes, and there is no harm in waiting for other, potentially better answers to materialize before accepting.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:33
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA But “I'm going into hospital” and “I'm taking you to hospital” are both fine in BrE, while they're unidiomatic in AmE. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 20:59

2 Answers 2


In town here uses a special sense of town, which refers to whatever is understood to be the local region. Saying someone is in town is akin to saying they are in the neighborhood or in the area; as the LDOCE has it:

where you live [uncountable]: the town or city where you live:

Cam left town about an hour ago, so he should be out at the farm by now.
I'll be out of town for about a week.
Guess who's in town? Jodie's sister!
Do you know of a good place to eat? I'm from out of town (=from a different town).
We're moving to another part of town.

  • To say Cam left town means he departed from the local area, or from wherever area he had been before. To say Cam left his town means he departed from (perhaps abandoned) his hometown. To say Cam left the town means he departed from some particular settlement which is known.
  • If you live in town, it means you live in the local urbanized area, as opposed to living in the suburbs or in the country for the outlying areas.
  • You can be out of the town but not out of town— that is, you can be physically outside the boundary line of a jurisdiction that is called a town, but you have not left the larger area.

There are other locations— mostly institutions— where dropping the determiner changes the meaning, like being in hospital or out of school; writing from prison or at sea; or going to church or to court.

See for example Which nouns should include an article after "go to [noun]" in AmE and BE? and Is there a reason the British omit the article when they "go to hospital"?.


For urban (and quasi-urban) dwellers "in town" means in their residential environs. Depending on the context, it might mean in the business district. This is opposed to "out of town," which means traveling away from home.

  • And for rural dwellers, it generally means in the town closest by where they live. In fact, I’d say it’s rarer for urban dwellers to use the phrase at all, since they (often) spend all their time in town, so there’s frequently not much need to specify ‘town’ generically, but more of a need to subspecify (‘downtown’, ‘at X’, ‘by X’, etc.). Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:26
  • For residents of large cities, "in town" doesn't distinguish between a residential area and a commercial area, since there are too many of the latter. But a New Yorker will say to a neighbor on his way to Washington, DC, "Let's get together for a drink when you're back in town."
    – deadrat
    Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:37
  • That’s true. I was thinking more narrowly of the example given in the question where “I saw Sue in town yesterday” almost unequivocally indicates that “I” live and am currently situated in a non-urban area outside the town in question. Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 18:39

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