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Thread: English Usage

    • Join Date: Nov 2009
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    Smile English Usage


    I am currently studying English at the local VHS and would appreciate it, if you could explain the reason why in one case I have to use the definite article and in the other case it is not required. The sentences I need advise on are as follows:

    Where are you going tonight? I'm going to the cinema.

    Where are you going? I'm going to school.

    Most grateful for your advice.

    Best regards

    Renate Chapman

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      • Native Language:
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    • Join Date: Oct 2008
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    Re: English Usage

    When you say you are going to the cinema, you are referencing a specific place.
    When you say you are going to school, you are referencing an event, more than a place.

    You may just as equally have said
    I am going to cinema (it sounds odd, but replace it with "theatre": "While I'm in New York, I plan on going to theatre and eating out a lot.")

    I am going to the school ("I am not at all happy about what happened to my son yesterday, so I am going to the school to talk to the principal about it."

    In this case, "theatre" is an event - you aren't mentioning a specific building or even a specific performance - you are just hoping to enjoy a live theatrical experience. And when you go to the school to address the principal, you have a specific destination in mind.

    You go to school to get an education; you go to the school when you hear the bell ring.

    I hope this helps?

    • Join Date: Nov 2009
    • Posts: 40

    Re: English Usage

    Usage of the definite article the is probably one of the most difficult concepts for many ESL learners.

    For places, we generally use the when we think about what people do there. In other words, if we're thinking more about the activity than the actual building or place itself, we use the.

    I'm going to the cinema. I went to the mall. She goes to the park on weekends. We're going to the zoo tomorrow. We enjoyed the performance at the theater (or theatre).

    Of course, English is full of exceptions. The big three here are school (university/college), prison (jail), and hospitals.

    If the subject belongs at the place in question (e.g., a student in a school, an inmate in a prison, or a patient in a hospital), do not use the.

    My brother is in prison.
    I'm currently in college studying business.
    She's in hospital with a serious illness. (This is British English. American English always uses the with hospital, so "She's in the hospital" would be correct.)

    Conversely, if the subject doesn't belong in these places, but is perhaps visiting, then you would use the.

    I went to the prison yesterday to visit my father.
    Jerry had to go to the school last week for a conference.
    Are we going to the hospital today to see Grandma?

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