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tom_g's avatar

What is it called when an English speaker drops the "the" before "hospital"?

Asked by tom_g (16635points) May 9th, 2012

Warning: Stupid question.

I was listening to a British news program on NPR this morning, and they used the phrases “He went to hospital.”, and “While he was in hospital”. It sounded all strange to my US-English ears, but I have no idea why.

I would say, “He went to the hospital” and “While he was in the hospital”. So, I tried to think of something similar that I say that is missing “the”. College. I say, “He went to college” and “While he was in college”.

Is there some grammatical explanation for this? And is it just grammatical differences between British English and US-English, or does this tell me something about how the British think about a hospital or health care?

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25 Answers

janbb's avatar

It just means that they’re speaking English English. There’s nothing particularly normative about the way we Americans say it, it’s just a difference and fairly standard over there. (In addition, they say, “When I was at university” or even “uni” as opposed to the way we say, “When I was in college.”)

thorninmud's avatar

“In court” would be another American example.

It seems to carry the sense of the broader institution, rather than the specific instance of that institution. So one goes to university, but one goes over to the university to pay the registrar.

poisonedantidote's avatar

The way I use it, if I am on the island of Mallorca where we have one big hospital I will say “I went to the hospital”, If I am in London where there are many hospitals I will say “I had to go to hospital”.

But that is just me. It just depends on the context, e.g. “take me to the hospital” (‘the’ as in the closest one I don’t want to die on my way to some hospital far away) vs “my friend had to go to hospital” (it does not matter what one he went to, you just need to know for this story he had to go to one).

tom_g's avatar

@poisonedantidote – Interesting. Thanks for this explanation.

@thorninmud – This is what I was thinking. Of course, we say “in court”, “in school”, “in college”, “in jail”, etc. but we never say “in hospital”. We don’t seem to have the “broader institution” use for hospital. That’s why I was asking if there might be something to this.

Kardamom's avatar

Now I’m drooling imagining Alan Rickman, Charles Shaughnessy and Patrick Stewart saying, “I went to visit a friend in hospital. The young fellow had to take time off from University.” and further, “I’m just going to pop off to the car-park, I’m late for the theatre.”

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

@janbb When I read this question, the “at university” thing popped into my mind right away.
It’s strange because a university could be considered a type of college. In the U.S., we say, “he goes to the university” or “a university”, but we say “I go to college”. We put the article in for university, but not for college.

janbb's avatar

@Aesthetic_Mess Yes, it is different but in England, university is the generic term for “highest” educational institutions while a college can be more of what we would consider junior or community colleges.

thorninmud's avatar

To answer the actual question posed in the heading, this is called zero-marking

jca's avatar

I feel the same way about people saying “He’s going to prom.” I feel like it should be “he’s going to the prom.”

gailcalled's avatar

There is also the use of “maths” by the Brits. Their language; their choice.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Makes me feel like “Hospital” should be capitalized, like, “I’m going to Paris.”

augustlan's avatar

Great question and great answers. I’ve always wondered about this, and had never heard of zero-marking. Learn something new every day. :)

gailcalled's avatar

@augustlan: Hang around here. You’ll learn lots.

janbb's avatar

@gailcalled Was that a tip from a old timer to a newbie? :-)

gailcalled's avatar

Who’s whom?

janbb's avatar

Just a joke; wouldn’t presume to hazard a serious response.

gailcalled's avatar

@janbb: MIlo here; I know that; it’s Gail who is slow.

janbb's avatar

@Milo You and I have to have a long talk sometime about Gail.

gailcalled's avatar

Milo here: Happy to but prepared to be really bored.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Welcome to fluther @augustlan! :)

augustlan's avatar

I feel so welcome already.

janbb's avatar

@augustlan Welcome to Fluther – Now go read the guidelines!

Dutchess_III's avatar

And watch out for that one Mod! What’s her name….I don’t remember, but she walks softly and carries a big whip!

Ron_C's avatar

British

morphail's avatar

Anarthrous

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