Why do you use the definite article with words like 'hairdresser' or 'barber'? Does it imply that each person in English-speaking countries has their own personal hairdresser so you each time go to one particular specialist? Articles usage, it seems, sometimes reflects the culture and history of the UK and US. For example, I heard that you say 'go to the cinema' (not 'a cinema') because formerly a city had only one movie theater (if any). Now, what if a person doesn't go each time to the same man or woman to get their hair cut? Is it acceptable to just say 'go to a hairdresser' or 'go to a hairdresser parlor'?

Besides (I'm not sure whether I should create a new question for this), why do you also say 'go to the hairdresser's' (I mean, use the possessive case)? I believe it's a contraction of 'the hairdresser's parlor' but no parlor has only one hairdresser! Who's that 'THE hairdresser'? The owner? But the owner doesn't cut hair personally (usually). It would be more logical if it were 'a hairdressers'' or 'a hairdressers' parlor'. Please explain why it's the way it is.

1 Answer 1


I do not know the technical reason for this difference but maybe I can shed some light on why we use the vs. a in that context.

If one were to say, "I am going to a hairdresser" it typically implies that they (the person saying it) have not yet determined which hairdresser they are going to; they could be going to any hairdresser. If they say "I am going to the hairdresser" it seems to mean they know which hairdresser they are going to; they are going to a specific hairdresser, not necessarily a hairdresser that they go to all of the time.

I think also the way the sentence is spoken and which words are emphasized can change the meaning of the sentence. For instance if someone says "I am going to the hairdresser" (emphasizing the I) it will mean something different than if they say "I am going to the hairdresser" (emphasizing the am).

As for your second question there. Usually this type of wording is used when you are going to someone's house. For instance, "I am going to Bob's to have a beer" implying "Bob's house". In the case of "going to the hairdresser's", this does not seem to be as common as the former phrasing but the implication here seems to be that one is "going to the hairdresser's place of work".

I am a native speaker but by no means an expert so take this with a grain of salt.

  • It's a well-established usage - see the nursery rhyme. Presumably short for the baker's shop, the doctor's surgery etc., even though nowadays GP practices usually employ several doctors. Dec 1, 2019 at 8:55
  • @KateBunting So it's a historic thing, isn't it? Dec 18, 2019 at 21:41
  • Yes, I suppose the same thing applies as in your 'cinema' example. I might say "I'm going to the hairdresser's" even though there are several hairdressing salons in my district. I do usually have my hair cut by the same person, but that isn't what I would mean. I might say a hairdresser's if I was in a strange town and choosing a salon at random. Dec 19, 2019 at 9:30

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