At School and at the School
Compare school and the school:
Alison is ten years old. Every day she goes to
When we say that a child is at school or goes to school, we are not necessarily thinking
|Today Alison's mother wants to speak to her
daughter's teacher. So she has gone to the
school to see her. She's at the school now.
Alison's mother is not a pupil. She is not "at
school", she doesn't "go to school". But if she
wants to see Alison's teacher, she goes to the
school (= Alison's school, a particular school).
We use prison, hospital, university, and church in a similar way. We do not use the when we are thinking of the general idea of these places and what they are used for. Compare:
"You're going to prison" said a police officer
I went to the hospital to visit my grandfather
• Tim's brother is in prison for robbery. (He is a prisoner. We are not thinking of a particular prison)
•Mrs Jones goes to church every Sunday.
• Mrs Jones goes to church every Sunday.
• Tim had an accident last week.
• He was taken to hospital. He's still in hospital (as a patient)
|• Tim's went to the prison to visit his brother.
(He went as a visitor, not as a prisoner.)
• She's at the hospital now. (as a visitor)
• He went to the church to repair the roof. (not for a religious service)
• Excuse me, where is the university, please?(= the university buildings)
Note: with most other places, you need the. For example, the cinema, the bank, the station.
Bed, work, home
We say: "go to bed / be in bed" etc. (not "the bed"):
• It's time to go to bed now.
• This morning I had breakfast in bed
• I sat down on the bed. (a particular piece of furniture)
1. go to work / be at work / start work / finish work etc. (not "the work"):
• Ann didn't go to work yesterday.
• What time do you usually finish work?
2. go home / come home / arrive home / be at home etc.:
• It's late. Let's go home.
• Will you be at home tomorrow afternoon?
3. We say "go to sea / be at sea" (without "the") when the meaning is "go/be on a voyage":
• Keith is a seaman. He spends most of his life at sea.
• I'd like to live near the sea.
• It can be dangerous to swim in the sea.