In hospital, to hospital: why no 'the' in BrE

Discussion in 'English Only' started by river, Dec 6, 2005.

  1. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    Why is "the" left out in front of hospital in the UK?
  2. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I have no idea. (There's a discussion about "in/ in the" HERE. It's about school, but the same principles apply.)

    It's just the way it is in BE.
  3. Eugin

    Eugin Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina (Spanish)
    (Excuse my English, first of all!!! :))

    I have been taught that "the" is used to emphazise that it´s not any hospital, but THE hospital.

    For example: I went to a hospital: it could be any hospital...
    I went to the hospital: it means that you went to a specific hospital, maybe because you had pain in a specific part of your body, so you went to the urology hospital, the ophtalmology hospital, etc. (At least in Argentina we have different hospitals for different conditions...).

    Is this explanation meaningfull or have I made a complete fool of myself??:confused: ;)
  4. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    Of course we don't always leave out the:D

    My mother-in-law is currently in hospital.
    My wife has just come back from the hospital - she was visiting her mother.

    (Feeble attempt at justification coming up)
    In the first sentence we don't say the hospital because there is no preceding statement or implication telling us which hospital the hospital could refer to. I wonder is there an elided a - My mother-in-law is currently in (a) hospital?
    Eugin could be very close to the truth:)

    In the second sentence we must say the hospital because the hospital my wife visited was the hospital her mother had been admitted to - I expect. As we have already established which hospital that is, it is the hospital.

    I wonder if that is clear? I rather suspect not, so I'll give up and see how well you all get on overnight:D
  5. Eugin

    Eugin Senior Member

    Buenos Aires
    Argentina (Spanish)
    I think you have explained yourself pretty well, panj, because that was very similar to what teachers had taught me at Uni.... :thumbsup:

    Don`t worry that, even when your brain works at 90% at this hours, you still are the master of the languages, PANj!!!!!! :eek: ;)

    All the best!!! :)
  6. DaleC Senior Member

    Aside from 'hospital', AE and BE agree on using 'the' or not using it in almost all cases. Therefore, there is unlikely to be a logical, principled reason for the discrepancy as to hospital.

    THE or not?

    in bed, but on the toilet
    on the roof, on the patio, in the yard, in the street
    at work
    at school, but at the office

    ("At the office" presupposes either that the office is one's workplace or it is a place where one is taking care of one's affairs.)

    ("In school" could refer to present location, but in my usage it more likely means over time. Therefore, "enrolled in school, pursuing studies".)

  7. Nick

    Nick Senior Member

    Western USA
    USA, English
    I suppose it is because most places have (or had) only one hospital. We say the hospital because it is the only one. It's not like there is a hospital two blocks west and three blocks east -- that just isn't practical. There usually wasn't (and still isn't!) any confusion.

    If you are one of the obsessive-compulsive people out there who cannot have any ambiguity and you are talking about a place with multiple hospitals, simple specify more until the really does only refer to one hospital. For example, "I visited the University of Utah Hospital" or "I visited the hospital in (city)".

    Quirk: One of the hospitals here is named Primary Children's. We say "I visited Primary Children's Hospital" without the, but we say the in [almost?] all other cases.
  8. E-J

    E-J Senior Member

    Cambridgeshire, UK
    England, English
    Found on Wikipedia via this site

    'A few "institutional" nouns take no definite article when a certain role is implied: for example, at sea [as a sailor], in prison [as a convict]. Among this group, Commonwealth English has in hospital [as a patient] and at university [as a student], where American English requires in the hospital and at the university. (A nurse, visitor, etc. would be in the hospital in both systems.)"

    << Please see Preposition hospital in the WR Dictionary >>
  9. Erinlad Member

    BE: He's been taken to hospital.
    AE: He's been taken to the hospital.

    While watching BBC television shows I often hear dialogue where the speaker does not use the definite article with the noun as in the sample sentence. This construction sounds quite odd to me as an AE native speaker. Does anyone know how this came about? This form was being used by educated BE speakers so it is not an uneducated form as I first thought. It makes me wonder when a BE speaker uses the definite article and when they don't.
  10. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    U.K. English
    If I was referring to a specific hospital and could safely assume that everyone knew I was referring to that particular hospital then I would include "the". Why, in the case of being taken to any hospital, we don't say "he's been taken to a hospital" I couldn't rightly say. We seem to be treating "hospital" as a general concept rather than a specific building.
  11. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
  12. Lute38 New Member

    British English
    The difference is explained by the role of the person concerned as is stated in one of the replies above. In the case of a patient the article is not used and the statement "She is in hospital." implies that she is being treated as an in-patient. The word "hospital" does not refer here to a specific building. Whereas, when the person concerned is not a patient the definite article is usual and in this case refers to a building and not a care system.
    Similar explanations can be given for one or two other institutions such as prisons and educational establishments. If you are a prisoner, you are 'in prison' and if a scholar 'in/at school. Roles of warder, nurse, doctor, visitor, etc. use the article - He is at the school/prison.
  13. Erinlad Member

    Now that I have read these post from BE speakers, the BE sentence regarding "hospital" actually make more sense than my AE sentence with "the hospital". Just as I would say in AE, "He was taken to jail" and not, "He was taken to the jail".

    I am now wondering if it is just as noticible to BE speakers when they hear "...the hospital" as it was for me when I heard the BE version with "the" left out.
  14. Hermione Golightly

    Hermione Golightly Senior Member

    British English
    I have spent many years in the USA and have frequent exposure to informal written AE, about health topics, so yes, it is a very noticeable difference if one is interested in usage.

    I do think that she's been in the hospital, meaning a stay in hospital, is heard less often these days but that might be because I spend most of my time in the London area.


  15. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    I think not - I base that comment on the fact that I have the impression that I've seen many threads in these forums over the years from AE speakers surprised at just "hospital" rather than from BE speakers surprised at "the hospital" - I also have the impression that the AE speakers have expressed themselves more surprised by the difference. As for the reason for my impression, if it's right - that's harder to pin down. Perhaps because we are more exposed to AE TV than you are to BE TV?
  16. cuchuflete

    cuchuflete Senior Member

    Maine, EEUU
    AE does, in at least one context, follow the BE pattern...maybe.

    TV judges, and perhaps those on the other side of the screen as well, are heard to say to lawyers, I'll see you in chambers! They sometimes interpose the possesive "my", but often do not. They do not say I'll see you in the chambers.
  17. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    Having reflected further - perhaps it is be cause "the hospital" can sometimes be right for us. For example, if someone says "I was in the hospital when the bomb went off" then they may or may not have been a patient, all we know is they were in the physical confines of the building (as was the bomb, if not near-by). If someone says "I was in hospital when the bomb went off" then they were a patient and almost certainly within the confines of the building but the bomb need not have been - they could be talking of one they saw on TV. So if we hear "I was in the hospital" it's not immediately going to ring alarm bells of strange usage without a good reflexion on what the speaker might mean.
  18. Hitchhiker Senior Member

    Washington DC USA
    I believe speakers of British English omit "the" in front of many institutions such as "hospital" and "university". Americans do the same for a few institutions such as "school/college" and "prison/jail" but not with hospital and university.
  19. se16teddy

    se16teddy Senior Member

    London but from Yorkshire
    English - England
    "In the hospital" is unremarkable in "British" English. It uses the word "the" in its ordinary sense and therefore means "in the previously identified hospital building or site".
    Last edited: Mar 5, 2011
  20. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    And I think Americans also talk make a similar distinction between 'going to church' and 'going to the church'; 'a witness being in court' and 'visitors being in the court', so there is a fair amount of similarity.
  21. danielfigfoz

    danielfigfoz Member

    English - British
    To be honest, I never noticed the difference before, so for BE English speakers I guess it is much less noticeable,especially as we do use "the hospital" in some circumstances and we don't n others, even just for hospitals as has already been said.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2011
  22. timpeac

    timpeac Senior Member

    English (England)
    No, the opposite. AE speakers have more set phrases using "the xyz" and so it will be less noticeable for them because the cases where the "the" is specific and not part of the set phrase will be indistinguishable.
  23. Strzykafka

    Strzykafka Member

    Austin, TX
    <<Moderator note: Strzykafka's question on rules about "the" has been added to the existing discussion on the general topic. I'm afraid you will just have to "accept" the situation in English :D There are other discussions in the links posted above that might be helpful, too. >>


    So I don't understand that. Is there any rule for that?

    Why there is The University of Texas at Austin as THE official name, but University of Michigan, also as THE official name.

    What is THE difference that one uses THE and another does not.

    I'm applying to THE University of Texas, but I'm applying to University of Michigan?

    (This is messed up! Not fun at all. This is impossible to learn.)
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 13, 2013
  24. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    English English
    Hullo Strzy. There's no rule: each university chooses its own name:
    The University of Texas at Austin
    University of Michigan
    University of California, Los Angeles
    Axford University
    Central Cowshire University


    You just have to learn each one individually.
  25. Strzykafka

    Strzykafka Member

    Austin, TX
    Could you explain me also the rule why there is:
    ONLY: church, hospital, school
    but a/an/the: house, street, airport?

    I need to go to hospital to visit my grandma.
    I need to go to an airport to make pictures of airplanes.
    I want to go to church to pray.
    I want to go to a club to dance.

    Where is THE rule? Why church/school/hospital is different?

    (BTW. I am writing about American English)
    (BTW2. I do not accept answer like, "because Americans are lazy so we drop articles sometimes")
    (BTW3. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  26. Giorgio Spizzi Senior Member

    Hullo, kafka.

    ONLY: church, hospital, school

    This is not true:

    When I feel depressed I walk as far as the church
    First I'll go to the hospital for those papers and then I'll take them to mum
    There were at least 200 kids inside the school when the guy started to scream

    GS PS The use/non use of the definite article depends on whether you regard the place as a mere building or think of its (usual, normal) function.
  27. Strzykafka

    Strzykafka Member

    Austin, TX
    I heard so many times... school, hospital, church, people were saying without the articles.
    What you writing is you describing a specific situation which you even wouldn't talk about to all people.

    I think my sentences are correct (American English, NOT British English).

    When you write about 200 kids inside the school, you are writing about THE specific school, the specific kids. When you have to pick up THE papers, you are writing about THE specific hospital. If you would go to any hospital, they would ask you, "Sir, are you crazy? What papers are you talking about?"

    There was 200 kids inside the school. But, I need to go to school to make interviews for my documentary about teachers. Not in every case you will describe SCHOOL/CHURCH/HOSPITAL and maybe more, with the articles (American English).

    Where is the rule for that?
  28. JulianStuart

    JulianStuart Senior Member

    Sonoma County CA
    English (UK then US)
    Have you read the posts in the thread above yours? Particularly #8 and #12. There is no simple rule - other than using "the" when specifcity is important to the desired meaning and the "the" can be omitted for some words (to be learned as a list, not by a rule :( ), mainly in BrE.
    Giorgio's examples are perfectly fine. What you need to realize is that context and need for specificity is important.
  29. Linkway Senior Member

    British English
    It's better not to think some nouns do take 'a/the' and some don't.

    It's important to recognise the difference of meaning.

    John has gone to hospital with heart problems. He hopes to come out of hospital soon.
    Mary is a plumber. She is working in a hospital today. The hospital is called the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. She will leave the hospital at 5pm.

    Henry works in a prison. The prison is very old.
    James was sent to prison for a serious crime. He is in prison. He has been in prison for six years, three in high security and three in solitary confinement.
  30. lapdwicks Senior Member

    I have a doubt about the exact way that how to keep the prepositions "in or at" with nouns such as hospital, school etc.

    As I know,

    He is going to school. (He is a student of that school and he is going there to learn)

    He is going to the school. (He isn't a student of that school and he is going there not to learn but to get some other thing done)

    In the same way,

    He is in school/ hospital.
    (He is a student/patient.)

    He is at school/ hospital.
    (He is a student/teacher/doctor/nurse etc)

    He is in the school/ hospital.
    (He isn't a student/patient.)

    He is at the school/ hospital.
    (He isn't a student/teacher/doctor/nurse etc)

    <<Am I right?>>

    Please guide me.

    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 21, 2013
  31. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Mod note: I have merged lpadwicks' question with an earlier thread that deals with the same question. Please scroll up.

    Just a couple of things:

    (1) Yes, your understanding of {in/at} (the) {school/hospital} is correct and is like how I use.
    (2) AmE speakers will not leave out the article before hospital.
  32. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    English - England
  33. JustKate

    JustKate Moderate Mod

    I'm sorry but this isn't quite correct. As others have noted, where the can be left off varies between the different types of English, but the idea behind it is the same: It's done where the noun describes a condition or situation and not just a place.

    Someone who is "going to school" is in the situation or condition of being a student. Someone who is "going to the school" is going to a particular school, one whose location is already known to the speaker and the listener. He might be going there because he's a student, or he might be going there for some other reason. "The school" simply emphasizes the school as a location as opposed to the condition of being a student.
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2013
  34. mainecollector New Member

    Portland, Maine, US
    English - US
    While watching or listening to international news broadcasts, I note that many folks throughout the 'British English" speaking world do not place an article "the" in front of the word hospital. (e.g.- 'We went to hospital' or 'He was in hospital'.) I note this in conversations with Eastern Europeans, Russians with Africans, where English is sometimes a primary language but most often secondary. Is this lack of an article the norm throughout the world, except in the US? I often want to correct someone when I hear this, but step back as I am not sure.

    <Moderator note: this question has been asked a number of times and mainecollector's thread has therefore been merged with an earlier thread.>
    Last edited by a moderator: May 18, 2014
  35. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    British English

    'He went to hospital' ----> He was injured/ill and he was admitted as a patient.

    'He went to the hospital' ----> He travelled to the hospital.

    'He was in hospital' ----> He was a patient.

    'He was in the hospital' ----> He was inside the hospital building.
  36. damegh Member

    Saudi Arabia
    Interesting !

    Is this a common understanding of all English speaking?
  37. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    I'm very interested to know if (or how) AE speakers make those distinctions.
  38. Edinburgher Senior Member

    German/English bilingual
    They do it by using a secret weapon. I don't know what it is or how it works, because they're not allowed to tell non-Americans about it. There is a rumour that they have a code-name for it: "Context".
  39. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Or they might use a different word. He had to be in hospital --> He had to be hospitalised.
  40. Biffo Senior Member

    English - England
    That's plausible.

    AE speakers - How do you make the distinctions shown in#35?
  41. Florentia52

    Florentia52 Modwoman in the attic

    English - United States
    American English

    'He was admitted to the hospital' ----> He was injured/ill and he was admitted as a patient.

    'He went to the hospital' ----> Depends on context. He was injured/ill and sought care at a hospital (though was not necessarily admitted,) or he travelled to the hospital.

    'He was in the hospital' ----> He was a patient.

    'He was inside the hospital' ----> He was inside the hospital building.

    'He was at the hospital.' ---> He was inside the hospital building (or possibly standing outside).

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