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Do you know when you need to use the in common phrases and place names?

Look at these examples to see when the is and isn't used.

I'm going to bed.
I walk to work.
My children are going to start school.
I visited the school yesterday.
Mount Everest is in the Himalayas.

Try this exercise to test your grammar.

Grammar test 1

Articles 2: Grammar test 1

Grammar explanation

Here are some ways we use articles in common phrases and place names.

Common phrases

We don't usually use an article in expressions with bed, work and home.

go to bed / be in bed
go to work / be at work / start work / finish work
go home / be at home / get home / stay at home

We also don't normally use an article in expressions with school, university, prison and hospital.

start school / go to school / be at school
go to university / be at university
be sent to prison / go to prison / be in prison
go to hospital / be in hospital

But we usually use the if someone is just visiting the place, and not there as a student/prisoner/patient, etc.

My son has started school now. I went to the school to meet his teacher.
I went to the prison a lot when I was a social worker.
I'm at the hospital. My sister has just had a baby.

Place names

We don't normally use an article for continents, most countries, cities, towns, lakes, mountains or universities. So, we say:

Africa, Asia, Europe
India, Ghana, Peru, Denmark
Addis Ababa, Hanoi, New York, Moscow
Lake Victoria, Lake Superior, Lake Tanganyika
Mount Everest, Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Elbrus
Cardiff University, Harvard University, Manchester University

Some countries are different. Country names with United have the. There are other countries which are exceptions too. So, we say:

the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America
the Bahamas, the Gambia

Seas and oceans, mountain ranges and rivers have the:

the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Mediterranean
the Andes, the Himalayas, the Alps
the Nile, the Amazon, the Yangtze

Universities with of in the title also have the:

the University of Cape Town, the University of Delhi, the University of Tokyo

Do this exercise to test your grammar again.

Grammar test 2

Articles 2: Grammar test 2

Nivel de idioma

Beginner: A1
Pre-intermediate: A2

Comments

Hi,

Good evening!

(A)
If the following sentences-
(1) I'm at 'the hospital'. My sister has just had a baby.
(2) Every Friday my grandad goes to 'the prison' to teach a math class.
(3) I'm going to 'the prison' to see my uncle.

were being spoken to someone who wasn't aware of the exact hospital and prison the speaker was referring to. In that cases would it be correct to say- '
(1) I'm at 'a hospital'. My sister has just had a baby.
(2) Every Friday my grandad goes to 'a prison' to teach a math class.
(3) I'm going to 'a prison' to see my uncle.

(B)
In this sentence -
I went to the prison a lot when I was a social worker.

shouldn't it be - 'I went to prisons' at the place of 'I went to the prison', since the speaker, clearly, means that they went to different prisons a lot to do their social works?

Kind Regards,

Hello Abhishek Singh

For the sentences you ask about in question A, there is nothing wrong with saying 'a' instead of 'the', but most of the time, I think most native speakers would say 'the' -- I know I would. It's as if we're thinking about these institutions in general, so it doesn't really matter which specific one is being talked about.

As for B, it would certainly make sense to say 'prisons' if you wanted it to be clear that you visited many different ones. I'm not familiar enough with the social worker profession -- and in any case, I imagine it's quite different in different places -- but if you mainly visited the local prison, then 'the' would also be fine.

All the best

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

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The LearnEnglish Team