Please explain the difference in meaning between these two sentences. Not able to make out the difference.

He's in prison.


He's in the prison.

2 Answers 2


The phrase "He is in prison." means that he is confined in a prison somewhere. His actual physical location is not important. This phrase indicates his status as a prisoner.

The phrase "He is in the prison." refers to his physical presence in a specific prison complex. The speaker may be standing inside or in front of the prison. He means that someone is inside the prison right now, possibly on business or as a visitor.

  • 4
    Yes, this exactly. A prison guard is not "in prison" -- we could say the guard is inside the prison at the moment, but free to leave. Someone who is "in prison" (i.e. "imprisoned") is there until released.
    – Andrew
    May 18, 2017 at 21:06
  • 1
    I volunteer in prisons and in order to avoid any problems of nuance, my wife tells others that I am "at the prison" rather than "in the prison."
    – Ken Graham
    May 19, 2017 at 2:47

"In prison" holds the additional connotation of being in a prison as a prisoner. So you wouldn't use "in prison" to refer to, say, one of the officers working there, or someone visiting.

(I'll add that "in jail" vs. "in the jail" is the same.)

  • 1
    "is the same" = "works in the same manner," not "mean the same thing"
    – Yorik
    May 18, 2017 at 19:51

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