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I'm a bit confused. I know that "go to university" is a collocation which means going to attend university. What if I want to say that I'm heading to, walking to, the university. Can I say "I'm going to the university tomorrow morning"?

  • Sure. Leaving out the article merely means you have matriculated, i.e., that you are enrolled there. Note that there are differences between BrE and AmE in this. Cf. BrE "in hospital" vs. AmE "in the hospital," etc. – Robusto Sep 3 '17 at 1:19
  • Could you please explain? I don't get it. – Dave Sep 3 '17 at 1:23
  • In BrE (British English) one says "I go to university" meaning one attends classes for credit at an institute of higher learning; one would say "I'm going to the university" meaning one intends to physically go to the campus. (In AmE (American English) one says "I go to college" even if the institution is a university.) – Robusto Sep 3 '17 at 1:26
  • So if I say, in AmE, "I'm going to the college" would it mean that I'm physically going there? sorry still confused. I got the first part about the "go to university" and "go to the university". – Dave Sep 3 '17 at 1:30
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    Yes. "I'm going to the college" would mean you're physically going there. – Robusto Sep 3 '17 at 2:02
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Yes, you can use the, if you go there not as a student. There is great explanation in Raymond Murphy's "English grammar in use" (unit 74 A, B):

Compare school and the school:

  • Ellie is ten years old. Every day she goes to school. She's at school now. School starts at 9 and finished at 3.

We say a child goes to school or is at school (as a student). We are not thinking of a specific school. We are thinking of school as a general idea - children learning in a classroom.

  • Today Elle's mother wants to speak to her daughter's teacher. So she has gone to the school to see her. She's at the school now.

Ellie's mother is not a student. She is not 'at school'. She doesn't 'go to school'. If she wants to see Ellie's teacher, she goes to the school (=Ellie's school, a specific building).

We use prison (or jail), hospital, university, college and church in a similar way. We don't use the when we are thinking of the general idea of these places and what they are used for.

Compare:

  • Ken's brother is in prison for robbery. (He is a prisoner. We are not thinking of a specific prison)
  • Ken went to the prison to visit his brother. (He went as a visitor, not as a prisoner.)

  • Joe had an accident last week. He was taken to hospital. He's still in hospital now. (as a patient)
  • Jane has gone to the hospital to visit Joe. She's at the hospital now. (as a visitor, not as a patient)

  • When I leave school, I plan to go to university/go to collage (as a student)
  • I went to the university to meet Professor Thomas (as a visitor, not as a student).

  • Sally's father goes to church every Sunday (to take part in a religious service)
  • Some workmen went to the church to repair the roof. (not for a religious service)
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    What if the speaker is the professor himself to mean he went there to teach his class. He is not a student, yet he's there to teach. In this case, he went to university or he went to the university to teach his class? – Mike Oct 25 '18 at 16:00
  • In AmE, to the hospital,regardless. To hospital is really more British. – Lambie Oct 25 '18 at 16:54
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When we say "the professor went to the university to teach" we mean that he went to the university--as a building--and his purpose was to teach, in other words, when he (professor) goes to the university has a purpose as well as he is involved in the building per se, and obviuosly as a member. On the contrary, when we say "he went to university" we mean that he went there as probably a professor of that institution and evindently to teach.

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