Grammar advice needed - definite article

This section is dedicated to Italians who wish to improve their English skills. Aiutiamoci a vicenda!
User avatar
calum
Site Owner
Posts: 367
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 8:46 pm
Location: Scozia
Contact:

Grammar advice needed - definite article

Postby calum » Tue Feb 05, 2013 10:43 am

I'm helping an Italian friend to improve his English and he has asked me a question to which I do not know the answer, at least not in a way to explain it as a grammatical rule.

His question is, "Why do I say 'I am going to the cinema / the park / the supermarket' but I say 'I am going to university / hospital / work / church'? How do I know when the article is not required?"

My first attempt at an answer was that the situations where the article is omitted are institutions of sorts but that doesn't hold for 'I am going to bed.'

Does anyone know of a rule of thumb, or is this just idiomatic use that he'll have to get used to?


Calum

User avatar
Peter
Posts: 2856
Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2005 12:41 pm
Location: Horsham, West Sussex, England
Contact:

Re: Grammar advice needed - definite article

Postby Peter » Tue Feb 05, 2013 12:42 pm

calum wrote:I'm helping an Italian friend to improve his English and he has asked me a question to which I do not know the answer, at least not in a way to explain it as a grammatical rule.

His question is, "Why do I say 'I am going to the cinema / the park / the supermarket' but I say 'I am going to university / hospital / work / church'? How do I know when the article is not required?"

My first attempt at an answer was that the situations where the article is omitted are institutions of sorts but that doesn't hold for 'I am going to bed.'

Does anyone know of a rule of thumb, or is this just idiomatic use that he'll have to get used to?


Hi Calum, I don't know if the following links will be of help:

http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/en/english-grammar/determiners-and-quantifiers/definite-article
http://www.englishteachermelanie.com/grammar-when-not-to-use-the-definite-article/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/learningenglish/grammar/learnit/learnitv97.shtml

The Melanie link is to a Canadian site but is saying much the same as what appears on the BBC site.

This is something which sometimes trips me up when deciding whether or not to use il or la in Italian. I wonder if the same basic premises apply.
A presto


Peter

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sussexshark/
http://sussexshark.wordpress.com/
http://www.photoshow.com/members/sussexshark/all

Impariamo.com has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/impariamo.com

User avatar
calum
Site Owner
Posts: 367
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 8:46 pm
Location: Scozia
Contact:

Re: Grammar advice needed - definite article

Postby calum » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:19 pm

Hi Peter,

thanks for digging out those links. 1 & 3 don't appear to handle the absence of the definite article in the examples: I am going to church, hospital, school etc. In link 2 Melanie does explain when not to use the definite article but offers no explanation as to why.

It may be there is no specific grammatical reason, just developed usage, and he'll just have to accept it.

I always find it interesting to be asked questions about my own language because it makes me consider things that I'd otherwise take for granted.


regards,
Calum

User avatar
Peter
Posts: 2856
Joined: Mon Feb 07, 2005 12:41 pm
Location: Horsham, West Sussex, England
Contact:

Re: Grammar advice needed - definite article

Postby Peter » Tue Feb 05, 2013 1:51 pm

calum wrote:I always find it interesting to be asked questions about my own language because it makes me consider things that I'd otherwise take for granted.


Too darn right!!! :lol:
A presto


Peter

http://www.flickr.com/photos/sussexshark/
http://sussexshark.wordpress.com/
http://www.photoshow.com/members/sussexshark/all

Impariamo.com has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/impariamo.com

User avatar
Quintus
Posts: 421
Joined: Thu Jun 30, 2011 8:22 am
Location: Florence, Italy

Re: Grammar advice needed - definite article

Postby Quintus » Wed Feb 06, 2013 1:52 am

Hi calum,

What do you mean with "institutions"? What is the difference between a cinema and a hospital (or a bed)? Why did you say that a bed is not an institution? (I'm serious, in this context)

Quintus
-

User avatar
calum
Site Owner
Posts: 367
Joined: Sun Oct 29, 2006 8:46 pm
Location: Scozia
Contact:

Re: Grammar advice needed - definite article

Postby calum » Wed Feb 06, 2013 10:47 am

Hi Quintus,

Why did you say that a bed is not an institution?


if we ignore the example of 'bed', then institution is appropriate to the remaining examples. The part of the definition that applies is:

# an organization or establishment founded for a specific purpose, such as a hospital, church, company, or college

By that definition, a bed is not an institution.

If we want to include 'bed' in the overall explanation, a better word is concept.

So, the examples where the definite article is omitted are generally those where what is meant is a concept, where
no individual object or place is intended, as in 'I went to university after I left school'; no specific building is being referred to.

Other examples of this are:
hospital,
prison,
parliament,
church.


The omission of the definite article in relation to 'bed' appears to be an exception.


The clearest explanation I have found for this usage is here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero_artic ... ro_article

and I'll paste the relevant part below:

"Zero article refers to phrases that do not contain an article, either the or a(n). English, like many other languages, does not require an article in noun phrases with a generic reference, reference to a general class of things.

    . . .

The definite article is sometimes omitted before some words for specific institutions, such as prison, school, and (in standard non-American dialects) hospital.

    She is in hospital.
    The criminal went to prison.
    I'm going to school.

The article may also be omitted between a preposition and the word bed when describing activities typically associated with beds.

    He is lying in bed.
    They went to bed.

Where a particular location is meant, or when describing activities that are not typical, the definite article is used.
    She was collected from the hospital.
    The plumber went to the prison to fix the pipes.
    We were jumping on the bed.
"


What is the difference between a cinema and a hospital?


I know that you're aware of the difference in terms of their definitions. As to why one takes the definite article and the other doesn't, I haven't a clue! I have searched for the reason for this distinction but to no avail. As a native speaker of English, I have grown up with the usage and I've simply accepted it without question.

Isn't the same phenomon present in Italian?
e.g. Vado a teatro but Vado al cinema...


regards,
Calum

User avatar
BillyShears
Posts: 388
Joined: Thu Jun 14, 2007 5:49 pm
Contact:

Re: Grammar advice needed - definite article

Postby BillyShears » Wed Feb 06, 2013 2:17 pm

Here's something to "muddy" things even more. Americans use the article for hospital and university "go to the hospital" / "go to the university".

This may interest you: click here.

Ciao per ora. Ritorno al lavoro.
Impariamo.com has a Facebook page < https://www.facebook.com/impariamo.com >




Chi domanda non fa errori.


Return to “Come si dice in inglese?”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest