2

A: Where are you going?

B: I am going to the/a gym. (first time ever B has mentioned the 'gym' to A)

My intuition tells me that I should use 'the'. But the 'gym' is an new information for A. So should it be 'a gym' or 'the gym' in the conversation?

migrated from english.stackexchange.com Jan 10 at 18:14

This question came from our site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts.

  • 3
    If A and B are friends, and B regularly goes to the gym, even if B has never told A before, then choose "the". If A and B are not very well acquainted, and B normally does other activities then "a" is possible. But I'd still go for "the", the place where you work out (the gym) is understood by everyone. – Mari-Lou A Jan 10 at 15:33
  • thank you so much! very clearly explained. – Christina Chen Jan 10 at 15:51
  • Using "a" is less certain so if there are many possibilities it would probably be more appropriate in a less familiar relationship. When using "the" it implies that it is a known noun. "The White House" vs "A white house". – Jeff F. Jan 10 at 16:22
  • In almost every context, the definite article would be preferred, either because the specific gym in question is known between A and B, or because B is using gym as a class noun: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/49585/… – Matthew W Jan 10 at 21:26
3

Unfortunately, in English there are many exceptions to the so-called rules.

Usually we use the definite article to indicate a specific instance of the type of thing we're describing:
I ate the apple that you were saving.

Sometimes, we use the definite article to mean the exact opposite, that is, an unspecified instance of the type of thing described:

Ex:
I took a walk in the woods - the woods does not designate a specific area, but actually refers to a wooded area whose location is not pertinent

I have to stop at the store on my way home - the store really means any old store, it doesn't matter which.

Every Friday, I go to the cinema - Which cinema? Any cinema.

Whenever I'm at the beach, I build a sandcastle - The speaker would not mean "whenever I'm at this one specific beach I build a sandcastle," but instead "any time I'm at any beach, I build a sandcastle."

I try to go to the gym every day of the week. I go to a gym near my office during the week, and one near my house on the weekend - Here the gym clearly cannot refer to a specific gym, because two different locations are mentioned.

All of these examples use the definite article, but they describe a generic location, or a generic activity. "Going to the gym" can sometimes mean moving your body through space such that you transport yourself to a specific building, which is a specific gym. But just as often (or perhaps more often) it means working out at some unspecified gym.

The real trouble is, some generic locations/activities use the definite article and some use no article, e.g. I'm going to school, I'm going to work, I'm going home, I go to university, I'm going to practice, etc.

How do you know which is which? Memorization.

  • This excellent answer comes close to defining some kind of a rule (so-called). Another example of the same usage is "I read xyz in the paper yesterday". The speaker does not specify which paper because that is irrelevant to what they want to say. If the speaker had said "I read xyz in a paper yesterday", that would be making a point about that particular paper. – JeremyC Jan 10 at 22:41
3

Interesting question, and so much is dependent on usage.

For example, on might say either

I'm looking for a restroom.
I'm looking for the restroom.

but specifically would only say

I'm looking for the Gents. (BrE)

In the normal course of conversation, A would say to B

I'm going to the gym.

since (s)he is habitually going to a specific place, whether or not already known by B.
Whereas, if A was looking for a gym to join, (s)he would say

I'm going to go look for a gym to join.
(a specifc gym has not been determined)

but if (s)he was looking for a specific gym to meet friends

I'm going to look for the gym where we are meeting.
(a specific gym has already been determined)

Sometimes use of a vs the is not determined by specificity

P1: "You have a phone message from this morning."
P2: "What is the message?"

In this example, the "a" in the first line refers to the number of messages, and the "the" in the second line refers to the specific message.

  • Yes, the gym, because presumably you go there a lot and you know your interlocutor. "When I'm travelling, I always look for a gym when I get to my destination." – Lambie Jan 10 at 19:10
  • If you know the hotel you are staying at has a gym: "When I'm traveling, I always look for the gym when I get to my hotel.", otherwise: When I'm traveling, I always look for a gym when I get to my hotel." – Peter Jan 11 at 22:53
  • I agreed with you, didn't I? Then, I said, there is another case. Isn't that right? That case is, and I repeat: "When I'm travelling [generically traveling], I always look for a gym when I get to my destination." – Lambie Jan 12 at 16:45
2

Whether the information is "new" or "old" to the listener doesn't trump other considerations. It is just one of the many contexts that can cause speakers to choose the definite article over the indefinite article, or vice versa.

Going to the gym can simply be a way of referring to the familiar activity of exercising at a place devoted to exercise. It need not refer to a particular place, though it can.

A person who started going to the gym when they got their first job three years earlier, a job which has required them to relocate to five different cities in that space of three years, might say:

I've been going to the gym for three years.

even though five different gyms are involved. The reference is to the familiar activity.

  • A much more succinct statement of the same idea I had. – Juhasz Jan 10 at 22:07
0

I am going to the gym. Is correct in my opinion because "the" Is a definite article. "The gym" Means particular gym you go. Where as "a gym" Does not define to which gym you are going.

0

In general “the” implies a specific noun or something that is the only one in a specific place. Like you might say,

Excuse me, I’m looking for the restroom

in a restaurant where you only expect there to be one, or you might say,

Excuse me, I’m looking for a restroom

in an airport where you expect there to be more than one.

Anyways, in this context, “the” just implies a specific gym they are talking about, therefore “the” is more appropriate. But “a” could also be used if there are more than one in the area this conversation is taking place.

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.