a/the + <place>

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Snappy_is_here

Senior Member
Japanese
I still have difficulty using the indefinite article.

1.
There are two banks near my house. I use both of them.
If I am on my way to one of the banks and somebody asks me where I am going, what should I say?
1) I'm going to the bank. (I know which bank I am going to but the person I am talking to does not know it. Is it okay to say this?)
or
2) I'm going to a bank.
or
Could you suggest what answers are appropriate?

2.
Similarly, there are two libraries near my house. I use both of them.
What should I answer in the same situation?

3.
In similar situations, I know that I can say, "I'm going to the City Hall, Ward Office, District Court, etc. because they are specific ones.)
If it is a restaurant, I would probably say, "I'm going to a restaurant," (not the restaurant though I always use only one restaurant).
Then what about "bookstore," "department store," and "supermarket"? (There are several bookstores, department stores, and supermarkets around here.)
 
  • Cypherpunk

    Senior Member
    US, English
    I would use 'the' in every situation you've mentioned, because you have a specific destination in mind. Actually, I would probably say "I'm going out to eat". On the other hand, if I was meeting someone and they called to ask where I was, I would say 'I'm on my way to the restaurant.'
    I rarely use 'a' in these situations, and I only use it if I need something, but I have no particular place in mind. For example, if I'm traveling, and I don't know the area, I might say I'm going to a gas station or going to look for an ATM (any will meet my needs, but I don't have a particular one in mind).
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I would use 'the' in every situation you've mentioned, because you have a specific destination in mind. Actually, I would probably say "I'm going out to eat". On the other hand, if I was meeting someone and they called to ask where I was, I would say 'I'm on my way to the restaurant.'
    I rarely use 'a' in these situations, and I only use it if I need something, but I have no particular place in mind. For example, if I'm traveling, and I don't know the area, I might say I'm going to a gas station or going to look for an ATM (any will meet my needs, but I don't have a particular one in mind).
    Thank you for your information. I still don't understand the logic.

    I don't think native speakers of English say, "I went to the Italian restaurant" in the following conversation, do they?

    A friend of mine: How was your weekend?
    Me: It was great. I went to the Italian restaurant. (I have a particular one in mind, but a friend of mine does not know anything about the restaurant.)
     

    xqby

    Senior Member
    English (U.S.)
    I would probably use "the" as well as identifying information, but "an Italian restaurant" is also possible.

    "I went to the Italian restaurant that just opened in San Luis."
    "I went to an Italian restaurant."
     

    Æsop

    Banned
    English--American (upstate NY)
    "Going to the <place of business>" might be a special idiom that is not necessarily logical. It is usually used when the addressee knows which one you mean. If you want to be vague on purpose, you should use "a." If someone calls you on the phone and you don't want to talk or tell them specifically where you are going, you would say, "I'm on my way out to a restaurant." On the other hand, if it's 3:30 and your bank closes at 4:00, you would say, "Sorry, I have to go to the bank now," even if the person you are talking to doesn't know the name of the institution where you do your banking. We appreciate your concern for using our language correctly. Fortunately, there isn't enough difference to between "going to a bank" and "going to the bank" to worry about. You might use the "wrong" one, but you need to be concerned only if it is absolutely essential that you be mistaken for a native speaker of English. You really have to worry only if you are a spy posing as a native of an English-speaking country who will be shot if he is found out.

    I'm not sure that "going to the <place of business>" isn't an Americanism, not used outside the U.S.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    You're right, Snappy: if the person with whom you're speaking has no idea which restaurant you're talking about, then you have to either 1) use the indefinite article a or 2) qualify (define) the restaurant by giving a description, just like xqby did.

    In other words, in the context of a restaurant--of which there are many, many kinds!--the definite article the can only be used if the other person is already familiar with it or if the speaker defines it in some way himself.

    Supermarket and bank, on the other hand, are different. I may be talking to my friend from New York on the phone (so we are miles apart) and say, "Hey, I have to get off the phone. I need to go to the bank before it closes." Obviously he has no idea which bank I'm talking about, but I use the definite article anyway.

    I can't really explain why we use the here, but I guess it has to do with specific establishments dealing with very specific/defined things.

    Then there are some words where it could go either way, like park:

    A: We should go to the/a park today.
    B: I agree. Which one?
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I would probably use "the" as well as identifying information, but "an Italian restaurant" is also possible.

    "I went to the Italian restaurant that just opened in San Luis."
    "I went to an Italian restaurant."
    Thank you. May I understand that "the + a place" occurs if the place is where people usually go to and people have it in mind?

    Could I say, "I went to the flower shop, pet shop, shoe shop, bicycle shop, gas station, barber shop, fruit shop, butcher shop, bookstore, pub, or bakery," if I have a particular one in mind because these places are where people usually go to?

    But your wouldn't say, "I went to the small village last week," to a person who does not know where it is, would you? You would probably say, "I went to a small village last week," though you have the village in mind.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    You're right in all of those except perhaps pub, although I think there may actually be a BE/AE difference here.

    In AE we usually say "I went to a pub/bar" if the other person doesn't know which.

    However, I think in BE it's common to say "the pub," no matter which one, no matter whether the other person knows which one it was.

    In this case, it's similar to "the movies/cinema."
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    I think there are certain establishments that are so "established" that we almost always use the definite article.



    "I'm going to the shop" refers to any of the many grocery shops in the surrounding vicinity, even if one is not in the habit of going to any particular shop. We say this because all that matters us is the fact that we're going to go somewhere that provides groceries. We don't view a grocery shop so much as an individual place, but rather as an idea, if you get my meaning ;). You could also say "I'm going to a shop", but "the" sounds slightly more idiomatic.

    "I'm going to the bank" means any one of the banks which one normally frequents. This is far, far more common than "I'm going to a bank", because banks are all pretty much the same. Most crucially, all banks provide the same service. This also applies to "post office" and other such places.

    "I'm going to the supermarket" refers to one of the supermarkets nearby, but most probably to the supermarket which one most regularly goes to. "I'm going to a supermarket" means that one does not know which one will go to, and I think it would be common enough to say "a supermarket" in this context because there can be quite a significant variation between different supermarkets. They can even provide different services - some offer only food, while others might also sell other items.

    "I'm going to the bookstore" most probably refers to one particular bookstore, since there don't seem to be as many bookstores as there are grocery shops/supermarkets/banks. In any case, there would be good reason to go to one particular bookstore, since each bookstore can differ a lot from others, in terms of size, clientelle, etc... So if you were going to go to a bookstore but didn't know exactly which one, you'd definitely say "I'm going to a bookstore."

    The same applies to restaurants, because restaurants are all so different from each other and it really matters which one you go to. So, I would never say "I'm going to the restaurant" unless it was very clear in the minds of both the speaker and myself which restaurant I was referring to. I would either say "I'm going to a restaurant" or "I'm going to (name of restaurant)."

    I would almost always say "I'm going to a department store" beacuse department stores are very unspecific places where one tends to just go in and have a look around. It's not like when you go to a supermarket for the weekly shopping with a list of "need-to-be-bought" items in your hand. Crucially, not all department stores provide the same service. Also, if I want to go to a department store, I usually have to travel a long distance (into city centre) and there I will find several different department stores.

    You would always say "I'm going to the library" and hardly ever "a library" because one tends to go to one particular library all the time. And also, they all provide the same service. This also applies with "the gym", "the sports centre", "the golf club" or anything that one is a member of.
    If you use two different libraries that are nearby, you would still say "I'm going to the library", and you would go on to specify which one, if the person was interested enough to want to know :D
    This same thing also applies to "City Hall", "Ward Office"and "District Court" because there is usually only one of these nearby.

    In the case of "ATM", I would actually say "an ATM", even though all ATMs clearly provide the same service. I suppose this is because there are so many different ATMs scattered around in different locations and I mightn't have a clear idea at all of which ATM I'd go to - I'd simply use the first one in sight. However, if I did know which specific ATM i wanted to go to, and crucially, if the person I was speaking to also knew which ATM I was referring to, I would say "I'm going to the ATM".


    Hope this wasn't too confusing :eek: My brain is about to fall out...
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Thank you. May I understand that "the + a place" occurs if the place is where people usually go to and people have it in mind?

    Could I say, "I went to the flower shop, pet shop, shoe shop, bicycle shop, gas station, barber shop, fruit shop, butcher shop, bookstore, pub, or bakery," if I have a particular one in mind because these places are where people usually go to?

    But your wouldn't say, "I went to the small village last week," to a person who does not know where it is, would you? You would probably say, "I went to a small village last week," though you have the village in mind.
    You'd say "I went to the flower shop" to someone who knows clearly which flower shop you went to, and also you could say it if you had gone to the specific flower shop which is near your house. However, if you went into the city centre and happened upon a nice flower shop, you'd always say "I went to a flower shop."

    "I went to a pet shop" if you went to a pet shop that is not near your house, that neither you nor the person you're speaking to is very familiar with. "I went to the pet shop" if there's one specific one that you always go to.
    Same with "shoe shop", "fruit shop", "butcher's", "barber shop" and "bakery".

    As Brian says, it's common enough, at least in Ireland, to say "the pub" because it's such an established part of our culture - drunks as we are:D However, it would be perfectly fine to say "We went to a pub."

    Always, always say "We went to the cinema" and "We went to the theatre" because... Just do!
    BECAUSE: The actual cinema/theatre building is subordinate to the film/play. People don't want to hear about which cinema or theatre you went to; they want to hear about which film/play you went to.
     
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    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    After reading your two posts, I'm more certain than ever that there is no identifiable logic whatsoever as to the choice between a and the. :D

    That is, every "rule" or piece of logic will inevitably have a dozen exceptions.

    Honestly, I think it's easier to just memorize which article goes with which noun--which, if you practice English enough, will happen automatically--instead of trying to come up with & memorize all the rules and all the exceptions.

    Eventually you'll start realizing that there are indeed some patterns, but these cannot necessarily be logicized into a steadfast rule; instead, you'll simply "know" them subconsciously.
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Honestly, I think it's easier to just memorize which article goes with which noun--which, if you practice English enough, will happen automatically--instead of trying to come up with & memorize all the rules and all the exceptions.

    Eventually you'll start realizing that there are indeed some patterns, but these cannot necessarily be logicized into a steadfast rule; instead, you'll simply "know" them subconsciously.
    That's kind of what I was trying to suggest. I was just trying to give as many examples as possible and then offer my crazy, semi-logical explanations just for FUN :D!!!!
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    That's kind of what I was trying to suggest. I was just trying to give as many examples as possible and then offer my crazy, semi-logical explanations just for FUN :D!!!!
    If there are clear rules I want to find them.
    It seems that I should use "the + place" in the following cases when I have a conversation with somebody:

    1. The person I am talking to and I know where that place is (I understand this logic very well and I am sure that learners of English will easily understand this).
    2. The place is closely related to my daily life (e.g., the bank, library, supermarket) and where I usually go to. I can say to somebody, "I'm going to the bank," if I have it in mind, and it does not matter whether the person I am talking to know where it is.

    On the contrary,

    3. Even if the place is closely related to my daily life but it is not where I usually go to, I should use "a" (e.g., "Recently I found a good supermarket in town").
    4. If the place is not closely related to my daily life and where I seldom visit or I don't know where it is, I should use "a" (e.g., "I must go to an electrical shop to buy a LAN cable. Do you know any electrical shops around here?")
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think there is a logic of sorts in the way I use these words, but I'm not sure how general my use is, and I'd be surprised if the usage is the same in AE.

    I agree with some of Irosa's points:

    1. About going to the theatre and the cinema in a general sense. But one can go to a very specific theatre which you'd probably be specific about - I'm going to a theatre which has just opened in Slowbridge Road, to see a production of....

    2. About using the when you are talking about the establishment you usually frequent - I'm going to the shop (if there is only one in the village); I'm going to the shops (if there are several).

    So I'd say I'm going to a florist if I don't often send flowers or if there are several which I might be going to. This is the point about talking to someone on the telephone: they don't know if there is only one or may not know if you often send flowers, so you'd be more likely to say a florist on the phone to a stranger, than in ordinary speech to a member of the family.

    But I didn't see the point about the bank:

    3. I would carry the logic above on to banks, and I don't agree that all banks provide the same service; your bank looks after your money and this makes a world of difference. Thus, at home going to my bank, I say I'm going to the bank; away from home I say I'm going to a bank.

    4. There's a further point: you may actually own the bookshop, or the florist, or the restaurant, in which case you say the bookshop, the shop, or the restaurant. I own and run a shop which sells photographs; I could never say I'm going to a shop, and anyone who works for me or who knows me a little would call it the shop, as I do.
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    2. About using the when you are talking about the establishment you usually frequent - I'm going to the shop (if there is only one in the village); I'm going to the shops (if there are several).
    Cypherpunk says that "I'm gong to the shop" if you have it in mind regardless of whether there is more than one shop in the village.

    Do you also say, "I'm going to the shop" if you have decided which one to go even if there is more than one shop in your place and the person you are talking to does not know which shop you are talking about?
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    [...]
    Do you also say, "I'm going to the shop" if you have decided which one to go even if there is more than one shop in your place and the person you are talking to does not know which shop you are talking about?
    Only if it's clear to the other person which shop it is - if we've been talking about it, for instance. I'd say the shop if I was speaking of my own shop, of course.
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    1. The person I am talking to and I know where that place is (I understand this logic very well and I am sure that learners of English will easily understand this).
    2. The place is closely related to my daily life (e.g., the bank, library, supermarket) and where I usually go to. I can say to somebody, "I'm going to the bank," if I have it in mind, and it does not matter whether the person I am talking to know where it is.

    On the contrary,

    3. Even if the place is closely related to my daily life but it is not where I usually go to, I should use "a" (e.g., "Recently I found a good supermarket in town").
    4. If the place is not closely related to my daily life and where I seldom visit or I don't know where it is, I should use "a" (e.g., "I must go to an electrical shop to buy an LAN cable. Do you know any electrical shops around here?")
    I think these are solid foundational rules. However, (2) will only work for certain prominent establishments such as "the shop", "the bank", "the post office", as well as clubs and libraries of which one is a member.

    3. I would carry the logic above on to banks, and I don't agree that all banks provide the same service; your bank looks after your money and this makes a world of difference. Thus, at home going to my bank, I say I'm going to the bank; away from home I say I'm going to a bank.

    4. There's a further point: you may actually own the bookshop, or the florist, or the restaurant, in which case you say the bookshop, the shop, or the restaurant. I own and run a shop which sells photographs; I could never say I'm going to a shop, and anyone who works for me or who knows me a little would call it the shop, as I do.
    In relation to the bank, I think I would actually say "the bank" in every situation unless I was in a foreign country, in which case I would begin by using "a bank" ("I need to find a bank," I'd say) until I got familiar with the bank nearby and then started calling it "the bank".

    I think "the bookshop" and "the restaurant" in this context fall under "The person I am talking to and I know where that place is", because for someone who owns a shop, this shop is such a fundamental aspect of their life that anyone they talk to regularly will already know of it. If the person they're talking to is a complete stranger, however, I think they'd be more likely to say "I'm going to my shop/restaurant" or "I'm going to the shop/restaurant that I own."

    Cypherpunk says that "I'm going to the shop" if you have it in mind regardless of whether there is more than one shop in the village.
    I think you can say "I'm going to the shop" in every case where only the speaker has a specific shop in mind, because there are shops everywhere and it doesn't matter that the person you're speaking to doesn't know which.

    Do you also say, "I'm going to the shop" if you have decided which one to go even if there is more than one shop in your place and the person you are talking to does not know which shop you are talking about?
    Yes, you would certainly say "the shop", although "a shop" would also be acceptable.

    EDIT: Well, as you see, it differs among speakers :). Thomas would use "the" differently from me in this context.
     
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    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    I must go to an electrical shop to buy a LAN cable :tick:. Do you know any electrical shops around here?")
    This is a bit off-topic, I just wanted to object to lrosa's correction (an LAN cable) in the previous post. Most computer geeks pronounce LAN as a word, in which case a would be the appropriate indefinite article to use...

    Personally, I would go to 'the bank' even if I was in a city I didn't know. If I were to ask for directions, I'd probably ask for 'the nearest bank', in which case the definite article is compulsory. But I'm Swedish, so I don't count...

    /Wilma
     
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    Wilma_Sweden

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Scania)
    But I'm Swedish, so I don't count.../Wilma
    Haha don't say that :D
    Just being humble... ;) It just occurred to me that, apart from being a non-native English speaker, Swedish usage may influence my English usage. In Swedish, we also refer to most of these institutions with the definite form, and not necessarily only about the establishment we usually frequent (see my remark about the bank above).

    /Wilma
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    It's strange when I think about it, but I would say "the bank" if I was in any city in my home country, but "a bank" if I was abroad. However, if it happened to be that one of my usual banks had a branch in another country, I think I'd use "the" just because of the familiarity of the bank's name.
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Me too. For example, on vacation in France: We're low on money--we need to stop at a bank.

    Those weird, foreign, French banks are unknown and unfamiliar to us, so we use "a." :D

    Yet even something that I've never even experienced, yet is nevertheless familiar to me, would still get "the": I've never been to the opera. (It's not true...just an example :))
     

    Æsop

    Banned
    English--American (upstate NY)
    But you could just as well say, "I've never been to an opera," and it would mean the same thing. If you described the opera, you would have to use the indefinite article: "I've never been to an Italian opera, although I have been to many German and Russian operas"; "I've never been to a comic opera."
     

    brian

    Senior Member
    AmE (New Orleans)
    Yeah, it's similar to my "park" example in one of my previous posts, or perhaps even better "to a/the zoo."
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    You're right, Snappy: if the person with whom you're speaking has no idea which restaurant you're talking about, then you have to either 1) use the indefinite article a or 2) qualify (define) the restaurant by giving a description, just like xqby did.
    Some people replied that they say, "going to the restaurant," regardless of whether the person they are talking to does not know where it is.

    So can I presume that it is a matter of familiarity?

    I have never been to beauty parlors. Quite a few women have "their beauty parlors."

    So it is quite common for women to say, "I'm going to the beauty parlor," because they have their beauty parlor in mind.

    In the business district of the city where I live, workers go out for lunch and after lunch they spend some time at coffee shops. They usually go to "their coffee shops." Under the circumstance, is it possible for people to say, "I'm going to the coffee shop," if they have it in mind?
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Some people replied that they say, "going to the restaurant," regardless of whether the person they are talking to does not know where it is.
    I don't think this is true. "A restaurant" is far more common.

    I have never been to beauty parlors. Quite a few women have "their beauty parlors."

    So it is quite common for women to say, "I'm going to the beauty parlor," because they have their beauty parlor in mind.
    I imagine women would say this to people they're very close to, people who already know that they often go to that same beauty parlour. But with other people, I think the conversation would be:
    Woman: "I'm going out."
    Acquaintance: "Oh, where are you going?"
    "Once a month I go to a beauty parlour on X Street."

    Possibly, if the same topic came up in conversation again between these two people, she could say "the beauty parlour (I told you about)", but beauty parlours are, I think, not established enough to warrant the definite article "the" - yet.

    In the business district of the city where I live, workers go out for lunch and after lunch they spend some time at coffee shops. They usually go to "their coffee shops." Under the circumstance, is it possible for people to say, "I'm going to the coffee shop," if they have it in mind?
    Yes, I think you're right! If one went to the same coffee shop that regularly, and especially if others were aware of how regularly one went there, you would say "the coffee shop".
    However, I really think it would be much more natural to say "I'm going out for coffee." ;) Plus it avoids having to choose between "a/the"...
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Eventually you'll start realizing that there are indeed some patterns, but these cannot necessarily be logicized into a steadfast rule; instead, you'll simply "know" them subconsciously.
    You always go to
    the bank
    the library
    the supermarket

    but not "the restaurant" unless the person you are talking to know which one it is. I understood.

    Could you give me some more place/facility names you use "the"?

    What about the following ones?


    zoo, grocery store, drugstore, park, (swimming) pool, barber, hairdresser, greengrocer, flower shop, pet shop, shoe shop, bicycle shop, fruit shop,, pub, cafe, museum, (art) gallery, aquarium, botanical garden


    Should I say, for example, "I'm going to a shoe shop," if the person I am talking to does not know where it is though I have it in mind? Do the person understand that I am gong to the shoe shop that I usually use if I say "I'm going to the shoe shop"?
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    the zoo (almost always)

    the grocery store
    when you are referring to your regular grocery store(s) or when both you and the listener are familiar with it; a grocery store in most other cases. Same with "drugstore", "greengrocer", "flower shop (florist's)", "pet shop", "fruit shop", "pub".

    the park
    when it is a well-known park that is familiar to you and the listener (as most parks are), a park when it is very unfamiliar (for example, if you were in a foreign country)

    the pool
    in every situation I can imagine except "Yesterday I found a new swimming pool in town", where the pool's existence was previously unknown to you. If the listener does not know the pool at all, I would always avoid using either article and would simply say "I went swimming." [As it happens, I go swimming every day at the same pool, and I have never, ever referred to that pool as "a pool"]

    the barber's
    (shop) is what I would say, but it is fine to use "a" here. Same with the hairdresser's.

    a cafe
    in almost every situation I can imagine, except when one is the owner of that cafe or when, for example, a worker explains to his colleague that he's going out to the cafe just outside their building, which has become very familiar to them. But again, it would be more natural to say "I'm going out for coffee" or "I'm going out to Cafe Sol, etc..."

    the
    museum when speaker and listener are both familiar with it; if not, you could say "I'm going to a museum" but it would be more common to say "I'm going to "The Museum of Modern Art, etc...". "I'm going to a museum" would sound a bit distant, as if you didn't really care to tell them where. [I think someone made that point earlier in the thread, somewhere] Same with art gallery, botanical garden, cathedral...

    an aquarium
    unless the listener is familiar with the existence of the aquarium. But even if he/she :)eek::D) isn't, you could say "I'm going to the aquarium that they have in the zoo."

    a shoe shop
    (almost always, even if it's your regular shoe shop). Even if the speaker and the listener were deeply familiar with the shoe shop in question, I would avoid saying "the shoe shop" by naming the shoe shop, which would sound a lot more natural.
     

    JulianStuart

    Senior Member
    English (UK then US)
    Context, familiarity and specificity all play a role in deciding which to use. As Brian said, practising and hearing others will allow you to develop a subconscious recognition of what is right much more effectively than trying to "decode" some rules that may or may not apply. It's a little like trying to learn when to use wa and ga in your language!
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I don't think what the other person knows is necessarily relevant. What matters is how the speaker views the place (or thing):

    I hung up the phone and opened the door. The neighbor across the street already had his holiday decorations out. But I had to take my car to the garage and my son to the dentist. While we were downtown, I stopped by the main bank. On the corner by the bank, I saw the newspaper with the headline "Man bites dog!" You were right. They even had a picture of the guy.

    After a clean bill of dental health, my son could not pass up a visit to the pizza place, so my holiday decorations had to wait until the next day.

     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    After a clean bill of dental health, my son could not pass up a visit to the pizza place, so my holiday decorations had to wait until the next day.

    If "the pizza place" is possible, I don't know why "I'm going to the restaurant" is inappropriate when I speak to somebody who does not know which restaurant it is while I have that restaurant in mind.

    Is that because there are many types of restaurants (e.g., Chinese restaurants, Japanese restaurants, Italian restaurants)?
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Context, familiarity and specificity all play a role in deciding which to use. As Brian said, practising and hearing others will allow you to develop a subconscious recognition of what is right much more effectively than trying to "decode" some rules that may or may not apply. It's a little like trying to learn when to use wa and ga in your language!
    You are right. I was just wondering if there is an easier way to decide which article I should use.
     

    taked4700

    Senior Member
    japanese japan
    Hello,there.

    Excuse my curiosity, but let me ask you a question.

    The situation;

    This morning I received a postcard telling that a school reunion is planned at a certain place in the town next month. Maybe the place would be a restaurant or something like that, but anyway it's not decided yet. Now I'm wondering if or not I should go there.

    Question;

    Is it OK to say to myself,

    1. "I'd like to attend the school reunion held at a restaunt in town."

    2. "I'd like to attend the school reunion held at the restaunt in town."

    Which is natural to say to myself? Or both are wrong?

    Thanks in advance.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    Yes, plain restaurant seems too general. We can say the Italian restaurant, the restaurant on the corner, etc. If I work in a restaurant, I might say "I need to go to the restaurant today."

    The only restaurant in your part of town or the only one you go to would qualify as the restaurant, but the person you are speaking to may want a little explanation in that case.

    I think it really does not matter whether the person spoken to knows which restaurant it is if it makes sense that it would be "the" restaurant from your point of view.
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Yes, plain restaurant seems too general. We can say the Italian restaurant, the restaurant on the corner, etc. If I work in a restaurant, I might say "I need to go to the restaurant today."

    The only restaurant in your part of town or the only one you go to would qualify as the restaurant, but the person you are speaking to may want a little explanation in that case.

    I think it really does not matter whether the person spoken to knows which restaurant it is if it makes sense that it would be "the" restaurant from your point of view.
    Very clear! Thank you!
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Forero, bearing in mind that this thread is about "a/the + place" only, your examples are interesting. It is important to note that one almost always says "the dentist (office)", "the hospital", "the doctor (office)", "the garage" because almost everyone recognises these places as important to daily living. However, for alternative medecine or places where one gets treatment that's not as common, it's more typical to say "a physiotherapist", "an acupuncturist", "a chiropodist", etc...

    I also thought of the examples of "school", "work" and "home/house", places which are so fundamental to our lives that we could never bring ourselves to use "a". In fact, they are so fundamental that we often leave out the article altogether: "I'm going to school/work. I'm going home." In addition, you can say "the office" even to a complete stranger, because it is so common for people to have offices to go to.

    "The pizza place" works because "pizza" modifies the word place and specifies exactly what kind of place it is, in a way that "the restaurant" doesn't.

    1. "I'd like to attend the school reunion that's being held at a restaurant in town." :tick:

    2. "I'd like to attend the school reunion that's being held at the restaurant in town.":cross:
    For me, (1) works if you know that the reunion is going to be held at one of the restaurants in town, but not specifically which one.
    (2) would work if there were only 1 restaurant in town.

    I think it really does not matter whether the person spoken to knows which restaurant it is if it makes sense that it would be "the" restaurant from your point of view.
    Really? :p In the following conversation, A knows exactly where he is going - an Italian restaurant he has already been to many times - but B does not know the restaurant.

    A: "I'm going out for dinner tonight."
    B: "Oh, where are you going?"
    A: "I'm going to the Italian restaurant." :cross:
    A: "I'm going to an Italian restaurant." :tick:
    A: "I'm going to the Italian restaurant on X Street." :tick: (because there's only 1)
    A: "I'm going to an Italian restaurant in town." :tick: (because there are quite a few)
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    I also thought of the examples of "school", "work" and "home/house", places which are so fundamental to our lives that we could never bring ourselves to use "a". In fact, they are so fundamental that we often leave out the article altogether: "I'm going to school/work. I'm going home." In addition, you can say "the office" even to a complete stranger, because it is so common for people to have offices to go to.
    "School" and "work" are uncountable nouns. I can understand it is common to say, "I go to school."
    "Home" is an adverb. I can understand that the definite article is unnecessary as a matter of course.

    Really? :p In the following conversation, A knows exactly where he is going - an Italian restaurant he has already been to many times - but B does not know the restaurant.

    A: "I'm going out for dinner tonight."
    B: "Oh, where are you going?"
    A: "I'm going to the Italian restaurant." :cross:
    A: "I'm going to an Italian restaurant." :tick:
    A: "I'm going to the Italian restaurant on X Street." :tick: (because there's only 1)
    A: "I'm going to an Italian restaurant in town." :tick: (because there are quite a few)
    Is this because of the difference between American English and British English?
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Is this because of the difference between American English and British English?
    No, I really do not think so.

    "School" is a countable noun. My point was that you'd never say "a school/an office/a house" to refer to your own school/office/workplace/house.
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    I think the means that the speaker feels the place is sufficiently identified in context. The speaker may consider that the listener does not know where "the" bank is, but may not. If a person says "I have to go by the bank first", the person may be preparing others to expect a reasonable delay. The others may imagine that "the" bank is the one just across the street, but it may in fact be some other bank. The others may not have to know which bank is meant because they may not be going to the bank or perhaps they will be passengers in the speaker's car.

    Some people would go to "the chiropractor". I would not because I would go to "the doctor" first. If I ever visit a chiropractor, it will be a visit to "a chiropractor" unless I decide to make it a habit.

    The same applies to "the Italian restaurant". In some places, going to "the Italian restaurant" is a regular activity; in other places, going to "an Italian restaurant" is a rare thing. This would probably not be a BrE/AmE difference per se, just a community/social circle difference.

    Usage changes with communities.

    Dropping the article altogether does not mean the same thing as changing from a(n) to the, but it seems to be a related phenomenon that also changes with communities.

    I think home has become an adverb because it became uncountable, "where the heart is" rather than a countable building. "To my home" and "to the home" are possible phrases, but plain "home" is most common. "The office" is normally a countable place, but "work" is not. "In office" has its own meaning, rather unrelated to the meaning of "in the office".

    One adverbial phrase of place that does show a BrE/AmE difference is "in hospital". In America, we instead say "in the hospital" when we mean the same thing.

    This does not mean that being hospitalized is more common in the U.K. than in the U.S., just that the U.K. and the U.S. are different communities with somewhat different cultures. It might be that hospitals in the U.S. are or were at one time more independent private enterprises than hospitals in the U.K. Whatever the historical reason, perhaps the BrE speaker drops the article because hospital does not have to refer to the hospital building. Once a community begins using the with a place, or begins dropping the article, that can easily become the norm, supported by the culture.

    Even in America we say "in prison" without the article.

    We all know what "the future" means (a place to which we all are going), but Americans say "in the future", not "in future".

    Still, I think the principle behind the use of the with places is the same everywhere, even if the places differ as to which places are "the" places. The principle is something to do with familiarity, habit, integration into a/the community lifestyle, etc.
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you everyone for your useful advice.

    You say,
    You go to the police station, fire station, post office, and library
    but do not put "the" before restaurant, museum, or aquarium unless the person you are talking to knows which one you are referring to.

    Is it possible to presume that "restaurant, "museum," and "aquarium" are words of foreign origins and that's why putting "the" before these words sounds strange to native speakers of English or these places are less closely related to people's daily life compared with the police station, fire station, post office, and library?
     
    Last edited:

    Forero

    Senior Member
    As I've said before, it does not matter whether the person we are talking to knows which one we are referring to. What matters is whether the speaker feels the place is sufficiently determined.

    What is considered sufficiently determined depends in part on the particular community. One community may say "the skating rink" with no further information and another may not. How closely the place relates to one's daily life is definitely a factor.

    When a person says "I need to go by the bank", it means essentially "I need to go by my bank". You may not know which bank is mine, but you know when I say "the bank" that I mean my bank.

    What is common varies from community to community. If a community recognizes its own aquarium, then they say "the aquarium" = "our aquarium".

    The origin of the name of the place does not affect the choice of article.
     

    lrosa

    Senior Member
    English - Ireland
    Actually, in my community "the bank" can refer to any bank. I don't think it's entirely accurate to say that the listener's familiarity with the place being discussed is irrelevant. I'd say "I'm going to the bakery" to someone I'm close to who knows what bakery we always go to, but I would not say this to someone who doesn't know it.
     

    thoroughlyconfused

    Member
    English - Canada
    You would always say "I'm going to the library" and hardly ever "a library" because one tends to go to one particular library all the time. And also, they all provide the same service. This also applies with "the gym", "the sports centre", "the golf club" or anything that one is a member of. If you use two different libraries that are nearby, you would still say "I'm going to the library", and you would go on to specify which one, if the person was interested enough to want to know :D This same thing also applies to "City Hall", "Ward Office"and "District Court" because there is usually only one of these nearby.
    [The following applies to my version of English, of course....]

    I would go to the library, the sports centre, and (God forbid) the golf club (actually, I think I would go golfing). I think would also go to the Ward Office. I would definitely, however, go to City Hall (no article whatsoever). In any given city, there's only one city hall, so no a/the distinction is needed; don't ask me why the same doesn't apply to ward offices though!

    "Court" is more complicated. I would go to court (no article), but to the courthouse. I'd go to District Court (no article) if I were taking a case there, but I'd go to the District Court if I were just stopping by the District Courthouse for whatever reason. Very strangely, I think in all cases and meanings I would go (or take a case to) the Supreme Court, or the Superior Court, or the High Court.

    The discrepancy can be explained: you take cases to lower-level courts. However, you cannot "go to" an appellate (i.e., higher) court. You can appeal to them, but you only get your day in court if they take you!
     

    thoroughlyconfused

    Member
    English - Canada
    the grocery store when you are referring to your regular grocery store(s) or when both you and the listener are familiar with it; a grocery store in most other cases. Same with "drugstore", "greengrocer", "flower shop (florist's)", "pet shop", "fruit shop", "pub".


    Unless I didn't know which grocery store I was going to (e.g., if I'm in a foreign city), I would nearly always be going to the grocery story. This is even more true if I were going to my regular grocery store, and holds regardless of what the listener knows! The same holds for "drug store" and "pub", and probably for "greengrocer" and "fruit shop" (I don't have enough experience with them in my language!). I'm much less certain about "pet shop" since, in my universe, one doesn't go to a pet shop regularly.

    the museum when speaker and listener are both familiar with it; if not, you could say "I'm going to a museum" but it would be more common to say "I'm going to "The Museum of Modern Art, etc...". "I'm going to a museum" would sound a bit distant, as if you didn't really care to tell them where. [I think someone made that point earlier in the thread, somewhere] Same with art gallery, botanical garden, cathedral...
    I would say "I'm going to a museum"/"I went to a museum" in the cases when the museum in question is not terribly well-known or if the listener isn't likely to be familiar with it; I'd also also use it when brevity is called for (e.g., enumerating things to do or done). This is even more true when the museum's name is foreign and would require explanation. The same is true for art galleries and cathedrals. Since botanical gardens are much more unique to any given location (like zoos, and aquaria -- below), I'm more likely to say the botanical garden (assuming the listener has any inkling of its existence).

    an aquarium unless the listener is familiar with the existence of the aquarium. But even if he/she :)eek::D) isn't, you could say "I'm going to the aquarium that they have in the zoo."
    I think you're right -- "the" versus "a" is tied to the listener's knowledge of the existence of the aquarium. But I hold that the same is true for zoos and botanical gardens. In a sufficiently small town, the same might also hold for cathedrals (the town needs to be small enough that it has a unique cathedral!).
     

    Forero

    Senior Member
    If I say, "I'll be back soon. I have to go to the bank/grocery store", I do not imply that the person(s) I am speaking to necessarily knows where the/my bank/grocery store is.

    But if I say "I need you to meet me in thirty minutes at the bank/grocery store", then I need to be sure that whoever I want to meet me knows where "the" bank/grocery store is. Depending on how well I know they know my world, I might tell them something like "... at the bank/grocery store at 34th and Pine." Depending on where I live I may have to elaborate more: "on the north corner of Northwest 34th Avenue Northeast and Pine Boulevard" or whatever.

    Sometimes I use "the" with places, along with an explanation, in a way of saying "Welcome to my world" or "Welcome to our community", since "the" means it's part of "my"/"our" world and the explanation means it can be their world too.

    On the other hand, I might prefer to say "that bank" and not "the bank" with a stranger.
     

    Snappy_is_here

    Senior Member
    Japanese
    Thank you everyone for giving me a lot of advice.

    Let me check one more thing.

    Does "I am going to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner" sound unnatural? Should I say, "I am going to the restaurant to meet my family for dinner."? I thought it would be okay to say, "I am going to a restaurant to...," if the person I am talking to does not know which one is "the restaurant."

    If "I am going to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner" sounds unnatural, what about "I went to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner."?

    Sorry for my sticky question.

     

    Michel09

    Senior Member
    français - France
    Thank you everyone for giving me a lot of advice.

    Let me check one more thing.

    Does "I am going to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner" sound unnatural?:tick: Should I say, "I am going to the restaurant to meet my family for dinner." (If the person is aware of which restaurant, then "the" is correct.) ? I thought it would be okay to say, "I am going to a restaurant to...," if the person I am talking to does not know which one is "the restaurant.":tick:

    If "I am going to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner" :tick:sounds unnatural, what about "I went to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner."?:tick: (note: these are both correct but in different verb tenses)

    Sorry for my sticky question.

     

    thoroughlyconfused

    Member
    English - Canada
    Does "I am going to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner" sound unnatural? Should I say, "I am going to the restaurant to meet my family for dinner."? I thought it would be okay to say, "I am going to a restaurant to...," if the person I am talking to does not know which one is "the restaurant."
    As Michel09 pointed out, "the" if the listener knows which restaurant in particular, for example, if the listener is also there or going there (but then "to meet my family for dinner" is probably redundant). In most situations, I'd expect that "I am going to a restaurant to meet my family for dinner." to be more usual -- since if the listener knows which restaurant, they probably know why you're going there. A more typical interaction may be:

    you: "I'm going to <name of restaurant>."
    listener: "Why are you going there?"
    you: "(I'm going there) to meet my family for dinner." or "I'm meeting my family for dinner (there)."

    As a statement alone, you'd probably hear "I'm going to <name of restaurant> to meet my family for dinner." more often than "the restaurant".
     
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