FW: Freshman Use of Articles

Mark A Mandel mam at THEWORLD.COM
Mon May 20 15:28:57 UTC 2002

On Sun, 19 May 2002, Ruth Barton wrote:

#I think it's just the way British English is different from American
#English, Britts never use "the" and we do.  I say "he went to the
#hospital."  My British friends say, "he went to hospital."  I don't know
#that either is correct or incorrect, just different.  Ruth

"Hospital" is part of a strictly limited domain. It's certainly not true
that "Brits never use 'the' and we (USAians) do"; this is limited to,
imho, a small set of what we might call "institutional expressions". The
pattern exists on both sides (of) the Pond, but there are some regular
differences and some word-specific ones between UK and US usage.

1a.     go to school = attend (any) school (regularly, as a student)
1b.     go to the school = go to the school building
                (one time, for any reason)

2a.     go to college : similar
2b.     go to the college : similar

The above two pairs work in US and, AFAIK, UK as well. Not so the next
two pairs:

3a.     go to university = attend (any) university: UK only
3b.     go to the university = go to the campus (UK);
                attend the univ. or go to the campus (US)

Note that US "go to the university", taken in the 'attend' sense, must
refer to a specific university, whichever one "the university" refers
to. There is no US equivalent for the UK (3a).

4a.     go to hospital = be admitted to (any) hospital
                (as a patient): UK only
4b.     go to the hospital = go to the hospital building (UK);
                be admitted to (any or a specific) hospital (US)

Here the US use of (4b) includes the UK (4a), but is imho ambiguous, out
of context, between general and specific usage.

Please, UK speakers, check me on your usage.

-- Mark A. Mandel
   Linguist at Large

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