Suppose in all the sentences below, by reception I mean the place or the office that visitors go to.

Take, for example, these sentences:

  1. Please get your keys from the reception.
  2. Please get your keys from reception.
  3. I asked the man at reception.
  4. I asked the man at the reception.

Which ones are correct?

Is it wrong to use the definite article here? Why?

  • Personally, I think it sounds more natural to include the word "desk", in which case using the definite article is a given: "I asked the man at the reception desk." – JLRishe Apr 5 at 7:51
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    One would use "the reception" in the same way one would use "the lounge" or "the kitchen". It is a location, not just a role. When referring to the role only, "the" is not needed. All 4 the examples are correct, under the applicable circumstances. – PcMan Apr 5 at 16:58
  • @PcMan US native speaker here; I've never heard "the reception" and would consider it ungrammatical. I would refer to "reception" alone as a location or as a role (e.g. "go to reception" or "ask reception" or "ask at reception"), or I would refer to "the reception room", "the reception desk", or "the lobby" as locations. – Tim Sparkles Apr 6 at 0:24
  • @TimSparkles That's because you are speaking American. This forum is for English. – PcMan Apr 6 at 3:49
  • @PcMan Rude. This forum is for the English language as it is spoken throughout the world. Nobody owns it. – Tim Sparkles Apr 6 at 17:11

Let's consider this from a broader perspective.

The names of many departmental areas of the modern office have zero-article.

We speak of:

-Human Resources,

None of those use "the"...it is just another area. However, if you add "office" or "department" or "desk" to the equation, then the definite article does function.

Usually we say..."Call security, ask at reception, get IT to fix it..." Not the HR, the Security etc.

That said, "the reception" sounds like a reaction to a public statement, or what your radio is getting on the airwaves, or the event that occurs after a wedding.

It's a usage issue. As alphazero has mentioned: "This is the general principle that unique objects are identified by their name, without an article."

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    This is the general principle that unique objects are identified by their name, without an article. The name of the unique reception area in an office, hotel, etc, is "reception". So "go to reception" is the same usage as "go to London" or "ask Peter," not "go to the London" or "ask the Peter." – alephzero Apr 5 at 14:37
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    @alephzero Interesting rule of thumb, although there are many other unique areas in a hotel like the pool, the bar, the terrace, or the roof which can't really be referred to without the article. I'm not sure what the difference is - why can you "meet someone at reception", but not "meet someone at pool"? I wonder if it has something to do with the functional nature of the name, as places named for what they do like Security or Maintenance seem to not need the article, but non-functional names like Pool or Roof do. – Nuclear Hoagie Apr 5 at 19:39
  • @NuclearHoagie Great question..I will come back tomorrow. – Cascabel Apr 5 at 21:30

This is not too easy to research. But Lexico gives an example licensing the use of the definite article with 'reception' in this sense:

reception [noun] [British] The area in a hotel, office, or other establishment where guests and visitors are greeted and dealt with.

  • The larger areas, the reception, pub, and dining room, have been repositioned around a central atrium, as have the smaller offices.

I'm happy that amongst Brits 'from reception' is totally acceptable, and in fact more idiomatic than 'from the reception', but ngrams are tricky to use here as the attributive usage ('from the reception desk' etc) muddies the results.

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    My sense is that "the" in this example is provided for the other two parts of the parallel construction, namely "the pub" and "the dining room," which definitely require it. And my gut says "reception" is placed first, closest to "the," because "the reception" does less violence than placing it next to "dining room" and inviting the even-worse parallel "reception room". But I'm en-US and so might be miscalibrated. Nice sleuthing, in any case. – Tom Apr 5 at 20:33
  • I'd similarly expect 'The larger areas, including the reception, have been repositioned ...'. In BrE (I'm happy for once to assume a large degree of uniformity here) the physical (concrete) side (here, obviously the area designated, plus desks etc) almost always has the definite article. But this is rarely the case. When the emphasis is on the interface / services, even when there is obviously a location involved, the anarthrous choice is made: 'I'll check for any mail at reception' / 'Reception is down that corridor and then on the right'). – Edwin Ashworth Apr 6 at 14:18

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