British Word Usage Question

Even though I am an American, I enjoy watching British movies and TV shows now and again. Anything from Monty Python to Masterpiece Theater. I often hear a strange (at least to me) sounding word usage that I have always wondered about.

When I was in the UK on business I asked someone about it and got a terse "that’s just the way we say it " with no further explanation. It has to do with the phase "in hospital’, as in “John is in hospital this week”. The article ‘the’ is normally dropped.

My question isn’t why didn’t American English pick this up, but rather does it happen with other nouns too?

For example, is John sometimes “in car” or “in house”? I can’t remember hearing it being used that way before, and it if isn’t what is so special about the word “hospital” that makes the definite article “the” unnecessary in this one case?

It’s not just “hospital.” They say “at university” as well.
Don’t get me started about “on line.”

Sometimes in english, we show that a noun is being referred to in its canonical or primary purpose by dropping the article. It just happens that British English uses this for hospital and American English does not, but it’s the same phenomenon as saying, “Johnny goes to school” to mean that he is a student and is there for learning purposes while his father may “go to the school” to drop off his lunch. Since dropping off lunches is not the primary purpose of the school, the article is required. These are called anarthrous nouns, if you want to look up more about them.

“John is in school.”

Why don’t we (in North America) say John is in the school?

It really is just the way we, and they, say it.

I don’t see the issue with either of these, frankly.

Brits to the left of me, Yanks to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with other Canucks.

Americans (and Brits) say “in college” rather than “in the college”, because it describes an ongoing situation. John is in college, i.e. attending and studying rather than just happening to be in the college building.

Hence the real reason: Americans only visit the hospital briefly, because if they stayed for any length of time they would go bankrupt, so they say “John is in the hospital”.

When Britons go to hospital, they tend to stay for quite a while, as there are lots of queues caused by poor people (socialised medicine, don’tcha know). Hence “John is in hospital”. :slight_smile:
Seriously, though, it just is how it is. The reason we say it is because that’s how we say it, and it sounds weird to us otherwise.

If my wife is receiving treatment at hospital as an in-patient then I will say “she’s in hospital”. If I go to visit her then “I am going to the hospital”. Similarly, if she just has to go to the hospital for a brief appointment or something, then I might say “She’s got to go to the hospital.” (Hospital in this sense, signifying the building itself, rather than the sense of being “in hospital”.) If she’s expecting to stay there then “She’s got to go to hospital”.

Thanks everyone. Being a native English speaker I tend to forget the odd rules and usages that we all take for granted, but that must drive non-native English speakers crazy…

Not really - we are quite used to Johnny Foreigner and the Colonials mangling our language. We don’t even need subtitles when we watch CSI New York (or is that Noo Yawk?)

My neighbours are a very pleasant couple recently arrived from Poland, but the house belongs to second generation South Indians. The house on the other side is owned and occupied by a French lady and her teenage son - at least I think so as we rarely see them.

The real question should perhaps be how come American English lacks the “hospital” vs. “the hospital” distinction in this particular case, although the answer is probably that it just does. As mentioned, Brits do say “in the hospital” when the situation demands it:

Man standing near hospital: Where’s Fred got to now?
Friend: He’s in the hospital.

The northern English seem to drop articles and personal pronouns as a matter of course. For example, if you’re familiar with Monty Python’s “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch, you’ll remember one character saying, “Lick road clean wit’ tongue” for “Lick the road clean with my tongue”. It gives the Yorkshire accent (or is that dialect?) a unique touch that I could listen to all day.

Since the differences involve grammar and vocabulary as well as pronunciation, it’s a dialect (or dialects) and not just an accent. (I grew up in the West Riding from age 2 to age 9, so I understand Yorkshire English, but I never really spoke it.)

Yes, this, as I have previously remarked in two or three of the umpteen previous threads we have had on this topic. As Americans seem perfectly well able to understand, and use, the difference between “in the jail”, and “in jail” or “in the court” and “in court”, or “in the school” and “in school”, why is the distinction between “in the hospital” and “in hospital” somehow beyond them?

In any case, this is not an irregularity in British English, it is an irregularity in American English, and one that seems to be specific to the word “hospital”.

I don’t think the word “the” is dropped exactly, just turned into a kind of glottal stop. If you listen to Yorkshire speech there is a slight “stop” before the noun. In writing that is usually transcribed as “t’”, as in “There’s trouble at t’ mill”.

Slightly off topic, I’m English and I say “don’t make a noise” but Americans say “don’t make noise”.
It’s just the way things are.

You mean don’t get you started about how nobody says that?

Ta for t’ info. :slight_smile:

I just listened to a couple of Yorkshire speakers on YouTube and heard a slight “t” sound in there like you said, but I had to really listen for it. They might as well drop it altogether for all t’ good it does. (An example of a completely dropped word rather than just a glottal stop was “Get out me face” for “Get out of my face”. At least that’s what it sounded like to my North American ears.)

I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with that answer. I’m American and think you’re absolutely correct. It’s just a habit we use for that particular word “Hospital”. I’ve tried to think of other examples, but so far, I’m drawing a blank.
It’s really just a matter of how you learned the language in whatever part of the country or whatever part of the world you come from. Even everybody in America doesn’t speak American the same way. Some of the southern expressions and pronunciations make me crazy if I think about them too much. I’m from the west coast (NOT California - they have their OWN accent :slight_smile: ).

We Merkins also use “University” the same way we use “Hospital”. A student attends the university, he doesn’t simply attend university. We also tend not to abbreviate it as “uni” that I’ve seen.

(I think “university” was already mentioned already, somewhere upthread.)

I think this is depending on the situation. We also say it both ways.

I was just thinking of the difference between College and University. We usually say that someone goes “to College”, but I at least, would say that someone goes “to the University of Such and Such”, NOT he goes “to University”. I don’t know why that is. Probably the same reason I stated earlier, it’s just how I was taught to speak the language. :slight_smile: