I don't understand why the indefinite article is not used before institutions (prison, hospital, university, college, church, etc.) when we think of the general idea of these places and what they are used for.

For example:

My brother is sick in hospital.


Michelle is a student at art school.

Is it an exception that I have to memorize?

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    They do use a definite article before 'hospital' in America, even when no specific hospital is being considered. – Michael Harvey Sep 16 '18 at 12:02
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    You just need to bear the usage in mind. If you're not referring to a specific hospital, or to a specific mind, it's uncountable. You might think of preposition + zero-article + noun of place as a locative adverbial phrase. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 16 '18 at 12:17
  • OK, Michael. I see. My question was about indefinite article. ) And I'm trying to revise British English. – Anna Sevastyanova Sep 16 '18 at 12:20
  • @Tᴚoɯɐuo Thank you, now I have to find out what is "adverbial phrase" in my native language. ) – Anna Sevastyanova Sep 16 '18 at 12:29
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    It became a fixed expression for a reason. To say that something is a complement of is is vacuous, in the archaic sense. It is not lacking in intelligence but in content. The complement of is is predicated of the subject. What is the nature of that predication? – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 16 '18 at 12:35

It would be perfectly grammatical, I believe, even in BrE (I speak AmE), to say

I just know he is lying in a hospital somewhere. He doesn't know how to control that motorcycle very well yet.

The reference there is to an unknown but particular hospital, but God knows where.

In BrE, when you're referring to his locative status (he is "hospitalized"), and not to a specific hospital, you do not use an article:

He's laid up in hospital.

In AmE, when referring to no hospital in particular, but to the status "hospitalized", instead of using the zero article you would use the definite article:

He's laid up in the hospital.

We use the definite article to refer to the place in general terms, to say that he has been hospitalized.

  • I need some time to think about your first example, because I can't understand it and unfortunately I have no time for that now. I will be back as soon as I have it. Thank you. – Anna Sevastyanova Sep 16 '18 at 12:44
  • What do you mean by "particular hospital" in your explanation to the first example? Did you mean someone (for example, some friend of both speakers) knows it, but not the speakers? But they are aware of that (of the fact that their friend knows that hospital)? – Anna Sevastyanova Sep 16 '18 at 17:01
  • Sorry, I didn't pay attention to "God knows where". In that case could I ask you to explain what do you mean by "an unknown but particular hospital"? – Anna Sevastyanova Sep 16 '18 at 17:11
  • @Anna Sevastyanova: The reference is to a place, not to a status. The speaker is imagining the motorcyclist lying injured in a bed in a hospital somewhere, an actual place. The speaker is not saying that the motorcyclist has been "hospitalized", which is a status. Compare The lawyer is in court today. That refers to the lawyer's status, not to a particular location. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Sep 16 '18 at 17:46
  • I believe that the omission or inclusion of the article with certain institutions is a matter of learning them individually according to the dialect you're learning. But I also believe that the use of the definite article with post office, library, hospital, bank, for instance, stems from a time when every town/city had one of each. Again, that's a personal hypothesis, but, I think, a valid one. – CocoPop Sep 16 '18 at 18:17

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