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Is there a reason the British omit the article when they “go to hospital”?

Why is "I am going to town" or "I am going to school" acceptable but "I am going to garage" not acceptable? Is there a term for this kind of exception on the use of definite/indefinite articles?


The zero article is used when places are regarded as institutions, so we talk about going to church, going to jail, going to university and going to school. It might just about be possible to argue that going to town fits the same pattern, but it must otherwise be regarded as anomalous. A garage clearly cannot be seen as an institution and so requires the definite or indefinite article, depending on context.

  • +1 I can always expect to find what I am looking for, here. Thanks, Barrie England, for 'places are regarded as institutions'. – Kris Feb 15 '12 at 8:46
  • Also, I would believe it is the abstract entity that the noun refers to which is responsible for this. By school we actually mean the educational milieu, not the building. So it is with town. 'When will the child start going to school?'; 'Going to town with your complaints...' could be examples. – Kris Feb 15 '12 at 8:51
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    Police are an institution, but you don't "go to police", you "go to the police". The Army is an institution, but you don't "go to army". A museum is an institution, but you don't "go to museum". Banks are institutions, but you don't "go to bank". (You go to the Manhattan Bank, but not the Citibank. Go figure.) You can "go to class", but class is not an institution. – David Schwartz Feb 15 '12 at 9:23
  • @David Schwartz: Not 'are', but 'are regarded as'. – Barrie England Feb 15 '12 at 9:41
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    @BarrieEngland Right, but that doesn't make your point. Sure, you can say "go to school" to mean the institution and "go to the school" to mean the place. But that doesn't mean there's a rule that institutions get "the" and non-institutions don't. See the many counter-examples such as "go to town", "go to the library", "go to the museum". (Why are libraries and museums not institutions but schools and hospitals are?) This "rule" has as many counter-examples as examples. – David Schwartz Feb 15 '12 at 10:11

Some nouns are arthrous, some are anarthrous, that's just the way it is in English. You say "the Nile river" but "Lake Michigan". You say "the Ronald Reagan Library" but "Carnegie Hall".

So, it's "school", but it's "the garage".

I'm going to school.
I'm going to the garage.
I'm going to Albany.
I'm going to the Holland Tunnel.
I'm going to Lake Michigan.
I'm going to the library.
I'm going to Mount Rushmore.
I'm going to the Bronx.
I'm going to Manhattan.

  • Anarthrous is just not having an article. How could that be a justification? I am not sure if "that's just the way it is in English." There must surely be much more to it. :) – Kris Feb 15 '12 at 8:44
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    @Kris In English, some nouns are arthrous, some are anarthrous. It's like how in other languages, some nouns are male and some are female. It doesn't have to make sense. It's "the Bronx" but just "Manhattan". It's "the Holland Tunnel" but "Central Park". Some things are "I'm going to X" and some are "I'm going to the X". That's just how it is in English. – David Schwartz Feb 15 '12 at 9:12
  • Oh, I thought you hadn't read Barrie's answer when you posted yours. But now, you surely must have. As also my comment there. So what do you think about it? – Kris Feb 15 '12 at 9:15
  • @Kris I don't really buy it. See my comment. – David Schwartz Feb 15 '12 at 9:23
  • Could The Bronx have something to do with it being Bronck's farm but Manhattan being native American in origin (Manna-hata) ? – mplungjan Feb 15 '12 at 12:40

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