Posted by: Jack Henry | August 10, 2016

Editor’s Corner: In Hospital

Dear Editrix,

In the US, we say “Joe is in the hospital”. In the UK, they say “Joe is in hospital.”

What’s the deal?



Dear Mark,

I found this article written by Robert Charles Lee, a Brit who “works in American English.” Here is his response to your question (written in British English, thus the different spelling of hospitalization).



Situation with British English

In some ways, British English is more subtle than American English, considering the longer history of the ‘overall’ English of the British Isles. The in hospital vs. in the hospital is an example of such a subtlety.

As far as British English goes, there is clear distinction between the two. The general rule is that:

1. absent the definite/indefinite article, it describes or implies a wider act or a more commonly occurring event, and

2. present the article, it describes a more specific, often physical, act.

"He went to hospital" explains that he went there for the purpose that the place was designed for. In other words, it describes the wider act or sense of admission, hospitalisation and treatment.

By contrast, "he went to the hospital" explains that he went to visit a particular hospital. The sense or implication is to visit (say) a friend hospitalised there. It describes the act of physically visiting the place, not for the purpose of that building.

Likewise, "he just got out of hospital" implies he’s well enough to be discharged recently, whereas "he just got out of the hospital" is just having physically departed (fled, escaped) the confines of an actual hospital facility.

Similarly, "I went to school" talks about attending classes in an educational establishment, whereas "I went to the school" is just visiting the physical establishment.

Situation with American English

The truth is, American English does roughly the same thing with some nouns, so this isn’t special or exclusive to British English.

British just do it with a few more nouns than American do. Americans do say:

· go to school

· go to college

· go to work

· go on vacation (rather than ‘go on a holiday’)

· soldiers go to war, and reporters go to the war zone

Even in American English [KC – In italic, below], the definite and indefinite articles (the, a, an) before the noun will be omitted if the meaning is (as in British English) of a state or condition and not of a specific place:

· going to jail (going to be locked up)

· going to the jail (visiting a particular jail in the next town, etc.)

· in love

· in hospital

· at university

· under fire

And a little Spanish humor from Jackie Solano:

***For those of you unfamiliar with Spanish, soy means “I am.”

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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