Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

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Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by tony h » Sat Jun 02, 2018 7:17 pm

What grammatically is the difference in "school" between the two phrases?

School seems to have a number of scenarios:
1. you go to school, to be schooled
2. you go to the school to deliver stationery.
which are in line with gaol:
1. to gaol, to be gaoled
2. to the gaol to deliver doughnuts
but differ from:
1. to office (doesn't make sense)
2. to the office
How is this explained in terms grammatical?
Quizzically yours,
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by trolley » Sat Jun 02, 2018 9:37 pm

I'm not sure what the "rules" are. I agree that "to office" doesn't make sense but, I have to admit,the UK "going to hospital" sounds totally alien to these old Canadian ears. We would only go to "the hospital". I'll bet there are others, but I can't think of them. Would a Brit "call cops" or would he "call the cops"?
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:22 am

Let's first get the most straightforward instances out of the way. The following are all consistent and hence unproblematic:

You go to the (particular) school / jail / office to do a one-off activity of some kind (or at least, there is no open-ended arrangement regarding how often you go there).

You go to school to be indoctrinated educated, you go to jail to remind other people to submit to authority and not rock the Establishment's boat be imprisoned, and you go to bed in order to sleep. But as you say, Tony, this pattern for open-ended arrangements does not hold with 'office'.

The fact that the non-existence of the collocation 'go to office' is not inherently due to a grammatical limitation or cause is demonstrated by the different usages 'go to hospital' (UK) and 'go to the hospital' (USA & Canada) that Trolley mentions. The British have simply opted for one set expression to describe visiting a hospital for treatment, and North Americans have opted for a slightly different set expression, for who-knows-what reason.

Of course, on both sides of the Atlantic we do say 'go to work' (and not 'go to the work') as a proxy for the theoretically equally plausible 'go to office / factory / farm', etc to describe habitual or open-ended attendance at a workplace.

My guess is that the diversity of possible workplaces is such that all speakers of English have preferred to keep things simple by referring to what habitually happens in these places only in a general sort of way when there is no particular reason to specify its type or location in more detail: whether we do office work, or make physical objects, or tend a farm, it is all covered by the umbrella term work. So most often, we simply go to work without further elaboration.

Finally, Trolley, I think most British speakers would say 'call the police' if they were speaking Standard English (though 'call the cops' is also widely used too). That seems consistent with the inclusion of 'the' in the usages go to the school / jail / office when referring to a one-off activity.
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by tony h » Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:09 am

My hypothesis is that we (British) omit the article when going to a place for the purposes of being on the receiving end of the verb-form for that place.

So:
- hospital, hospitalised
- gaol, gaoled
- school, schooled

vs
- college (no colleged)
- office (no officed)


But with no verb-form, or if the purpose is different, the article becomes required.
I am going to hospital - for the purpose of hospitalisation.

To include an article where there is a verb form leaves the purpose unclear.
I am going to the hospital - to collect my wife, to attend an appointment, to repair the air conditioning.

The reason I included being on the receiving end is because of scenarios like:
- shop, shopped
This does not allow for "I am going to shop"
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:24 pm

tony h wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 9:09 am
My hypothesis is that we (British) omit the article when going to a place for the purposes of being on the receiving end of the verb-form for that place.

So:
- hospital, hospitalised
- gaol, gaoled
- school, schooled

vs
- college (no colleged)
- office (no officed)

I don't think being on the receiving end [of some verb-defined process] matches the omission of the definite article as well as the condition in which you are doing something on a repeated, open-ended basis. For instance, you go to university / college / Mass / church / bed without being 'universitied', 'colleged', 'Massed', 'churched' or 'bedded'.

But with no verb-form, or if the purpose is different, the article becomes required.
I am going to hospital - for the purpose of hospitalisation.

To include an article where there is a verb form leaves the purpose unclear.
I am going to the hospital - to collect my wife, to attend an appointment, to repair the air conditioning.

Your 'hospital' examples do not explain why the usage / non-usage of the definite article in this case differs in the UK and North America.

The reason I included being on the receiving end is because of scenarios like:
- shop, shopped
This does not allow for "I am going to shop"

Could you explain what you mean regarding the 'shop' case in a bit more detail? It's not clear to me what you mean by 'this does not allow for "I am going to shop".
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by tony h » Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:56 pm

Erik, you are quite right, and you have demolished my hypothesis so kindly.

I think I am being affected by a big yellow ball in the sky.
:)
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jun 03, 2018 4:21 pm

tony h wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 3:56 pm
I think I am being affected by a big yellow ball in the sky.
:)
Not as much as the person who wrote this news article:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/h ... 70661.html
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by Bobinwales » Sun Jun 03, 2018 8:43 pm

I can tell you why I took my neighbour to hospital rather than the hospital. We have about six hospitals around here so referring to "the hospital" would be daft.
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by BonnieL » Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:50 pm

Bobinwales wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 8:43 pm
I can tell you why I took my neighbour to hospital rather than the hospital. We have about six hospitals around here so referring to "the hospital" would be daft.
Here it isn't daft - it's normal. We go to "the hospital" - if which hospital is important, then the name is mentioned.
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by tony h » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:44 am

BonnieL wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 11:50 pm
Bobinwales wrote:
Sun Jun 03, 2018 8:43 pm
I can tell you why I took my neighbour to hospital rather than the hospital. We have about six hospitals around here so referring to "the hospital" would be daft.
Here it isn't daft - it's normal. We go to "the hospital" - if which hospital is important, then the name is mentioned.
BonnieL : do you do the same with school? ie where, we in the UK, would say "we go to school" do you add a "the"?
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by Phil White » Wed Jun 06, 2018 3:03 pm

It's an interesting one, but it is one of the many areas of language where you will seek in vain for hard and fast rules. I think the lack of things like "go to office" and "go to factory", as already mentioned, demonstrate as clearly as anything else the arbitrary nature of the construction. And yet we intuitively feel that "go to school" is somehow right and appropriate.

This is a phenomenon that is well known to cognitive linguists, namely that of "motivation". The dropping of the article is "motivated", as it generalizes the noun. In other words, it is not a specific institution that we are thinking of, nor even the concrete manifestation of that institution, but the purpose of the institution. The "motivation" for the construction is one of generalization. But this is not to say that the construction is predictable. On the contrary, the occurrence of the construction is arbitrary within given parameters. The parameters for the construction include the use of "go to" coupled with a building whose designation indicates the purpose of the building. Within these parameters, the "'go to' + naked noun" construction can occur. Whether or not it does so is, however, arbitrary, as is nicely demonstrated by trolley's "go to hospital" example.

In fact, however, the "go to" restriction seems to me to be unnecessary. The designation for a building that serves a particular purpose can be used to refer to that purpose without "go to". Have a look at these:

"School was a wholly unpleasant experience for her"
"Hospital was a wholly unpleasant experience for her"
"*Office was a wholly unpleasant experience for her"
"*Swimming pool was a wholly unpleasant experience for her"

I have not spent too long thinking about it, but I guess that anything that can be used in the "go to xxx" construction can also be used in the "xxx was an unpleasant experience" construction (cf Erik's examples: go to bed/bed was an unpleasant experience).

So we have an even simpler reduction: Some nouns that designate places designed for a specific purpose can be used as naked nouns to designate the purpose of the place or the activity undertaken there. It is not possible to predict which nouns will behave in this way.

The important thing to remember is that even though there may be an identifiable motivation and pattern, the syntactical behaviour is not predictable.
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Re: Grammar in: "go to school" vs "go to the school"

Post by BonnieL » Fri Jun 08, 2018 3:12 pm

tony h wrote:
Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:44 am

BonnieL : do you do the same with school? ie where, we in the UK, would say "we go to school" do you add a "the"?
Not necessarily - not very consistent, are we. :)
Tho it would depend on context. Examples: "I'm going to school today." "I'm going to the school to pick up my children."
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End of topic.
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