When we do not use ‘the’
One of the first words we learn in the English language is the. In grammatical terms, the is called the definite article. Most western European languages have a definite article. So if your native language contains a definite article – count yourself lucky! Most Asian, Slavic and Turkic languages don’t have a definite article, which makes learning when to use the in English very difficult. This blog post looks at a quite specific use of nouns when we don’t use the.
The primary purpose of a noun
We do not use the definite article the in front of certain nouns when we are referring to their primary purpose.
Let’s take the noun hospital as an example. The primary purpose of a hospital is to care for people who are sick. If your friend Peter needs an operation, he goes to a hospital. We can then say:
Peter is in hospital.
In this case, we don’t say the hospital because we are referring to the primary purpose of the hospital. However, if you are visiting Peter and your friend Mary calls you, you can say:
I’m at the hospital visiting Peter.
In this case, you are referring to your physical location, not the primary purpose of the hospital, so we use the article the.
We omit the when referring to the primary purpose of other places such as school, university, prison and church. Here are some more examples:
Sarah is at university. She’s studying law. (primary purpose)
Bob is at the university. He uses the gym there. (physical location)
George is in prison. He robbed a bank. (primary purpose)
Pam is in the prison. She works there. (physical location)
Count yourself lucky: Think of yourself as being fortunateExample: Count yourself lucky that you don’t have to work late every night like some people.