Hey Brits - Where's the The?

This is a question for our British and perhaps Australian friends.

I’ve noticed, through the viewing of many British comedies and movies, that the article “the” is left out of sentences a lot, usually when saying things like “Timmy got hit by a car so we had to take him to hospital” and “Got to get up early to be at mill by starting time.”

I notice it most with the word “hospital” but is it more common than I think? Or, is it just with “hospital”?
“What’s deal” with that?

It is there, but it’s just hard to pick up.
In the north particularly, it can vary between a very hard T
“I’m off T’pub” to something more like a glottal stop. I’m no linguist though so this could be a really crap explanation.

For one moment I thought the title referred to those miserable bastards The The. :eek:

It’s not just Brits. In Canada (particularly in newscasts) we never say ‘the hospital’ unless we’re referring to a specific hospital.

If Timmy’s going to one of the 5 hospitals in town, he’s going to hospital. If he’s at the Children’s, we’ll say that.

Not sure if that’s right, Andy. A lot of people say: “I’m going to hospital” around these here parts. Actually, I think I might. However, it’s perfectly possible I could include the ‘the’. Odd.

It’s a good question. I’m not a grammar queen but it strikes me that either form is legitimate. Is not using the ‘the’ a colloquialism ?. Lets see if anyone else pipes up…

Barbarian, you might well be on the right track.

And hands off Matt Johnson! ‘Dusk’ was pretty damn fine :wink:

the ‘t’ as in “I’m going down t’pub” is a northern English thing and by no means universal in Britain.

As regards the OP, do you say “I’m taking the kids to the school” ? - I thought not.

Okay so we don’t say “the school” so is that the same as saying “hospital” (without the “the”) or is that more like saying “going to dinner”?

I’m not accusing here, just asking :slight_smile:

In other words, school or hospital becomes descriptive of the function rather than the place.

There’s a similar ont that works the other way around;
Americans often seem to say “a couple boxes of nails”, whereas Brits usually say “a couple of boxes of nails”

Being Australian, and used to this, I find the American usage of “the hospital” sounds odd to my ears. In Australia, and the UK, if you “go to hospital”, that means you are going to be admitted as a patient. If you “go to the hospital”, it could be because you work there, or you are visiting somebody: “Timmy went to hospital, so I’m going to the hospital to visit him”. This provides a useful distinction. The same applies to words like “court” and “church”: “going to church” means you are attending a service, and “Going to the church” means you could be there for any other reason.

The dropping of “the” in front of the word “mill” is a different thing. That’s merely part of a local dialect in parts of England, and doesn’t provide any clue of the speaker’s reason for going to the mill.

As an American, that seems like bad grammar and/or laziness on our part. If I were copy editing that sentence, I would surely add the “of.”

You’d be surprised how often I do have to copy edit things like that because people like to write like they speak.

I’d say that about sums it up; function vs place, although it’s not a strict distinction by any means.

What about “I am getting a coffee” v. “I am getting a cup of coffee”?

I always use the latter.


I used to drink lattes too but now prefer black coffee.

What’s that? Oh…

Never mind.

We also generally “go to church” rather than “go to the church.”

Do hospital scenes feature that much in British comedies? Maybe our sense of humour is getting sicker.

I also read a lot of “in future.” Around these parts we say “in the future.” This isn’t a distinction of function, is it?

As for the “box of” something, I too think it’s a combination of lazy speaking and, in NY anyway, the slurring of words. “A box of nails” becomes “Bocksa nails” with the “of” still present but barely audible.

Another difference :- In the UK we would say "I shall write to him " in the USA " I shall write him "

Not sure about that.

If I wish to refer to the future in general terms I might say something like ‘In the future, all hospital operations will be carried out by robots’.

If I am talking about my future or your future I might say ‘In future I’ll be more careful’ or ‘Watch it in future’.

The British use of just “hospital” where Americans would say “the hospital” can seem odd to Americans, but it makes sense if you think about it. Even Americans drop the “the” when talking about other institutions, such as schools or prisons. You wouldn’t say “Harry is in the prison” if you meant to say he was an inmate, or “Harry is in the school” if you meant to say he was a student. But for some reason it is common American usage to say “Harry is in the hospital” if he is a patient. Goodness knows why.

To be honest, every time I hear the American usage of “the hospital”, I think of Leslie Nielsen movies:
“He’s in the hospital!”
“The hospital? What is it?”
“It’s a big building with lots of sick people, but that’s not important right now.”