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School always closes for holidays.

I think it should be "schools close for holidays". Why is school used without articles here? Thanks.

  • I did answer this question, but I hope some mod will move it to ELL eventually, where it belongs. – linguisticturn Dec 22 '19 at 21:28
  • @EdwinAshworth We are in uncommon agreement. But you should supply it as an answer. – WS2 Dec 22 '19 at 21:33
  • 'School' is used in various ways, some doubtless unexpected to those unfamiliar with its idiosyncrasies. He's started going to school. / School's out. / School was over for the day. // 'Schools close for holidays' is of course grammatical (if platitudinous); it shows the count usage ('three schools in Wigham haven't closed yet'). But 'school always closes for holidays' is a non-count usage; it refers to either the whole school educational system, or (almost as a pet, proper name) to one's own and cherished school. – Edwin Ashworth Dec 23 '19 at 15:49
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Yes, school can be used without any articles. The reason is that it can be used as both a count and an uncount noun; see for example the entry at the Cambridge Dictionary, which clearly specifies whether a given usage is count or uncount.

In particular, that dictionary says that when school is used in the sense of 'a place where children go to be educated', it can be either count or uncount.

Some other examples of uncount usage, from that same dictionary, for that same sense:

She drives the kids to school every morning.
Is Emily in/at school today or is she still ill?
What did you learn at school today?

Here is a sentence from a published book:

School always closes for the holidays. (source)

(Which reminds me: it should be for the holidays, with the definite article in front of holidays.)

Discussion

At this point, you would no doubt like to know if there is some rule that will tell you when native speakers will use school as a count noun, and when as an uncount noun. Unfortunately, when it comes to the articles in general, at best there are only tendencies. Consider this example: in AmE we'd say …once he is taken home from the hospital, while in BrE we'd say from hospital, without the article. However, in both AmE and BrE we'd say in the morning all the peasants went to church, with no article before church.

As far as tendencies, here is how they are usually formulated in this class of cases (from Collins COBUILD English Guides: Articles):

6.5 Institutions in society

There are certain establishments of human society which are referred to without an article when we think of them as institutions in general rather than as specific buildings or individual places.

He was finally admitted to hospital with an ulcerated leg.
...after our first victory in court.

Here is a list of words that can be used like this.

church   court         jail         school
college    hospital    prison    university

Normally, when you are using these words to talk about buildings they are count nouns and article usage with them is straightforward. But when you want to suggest that they are being used for their intended purpose there is no article; that is, worshipping in church, studying in school/college/university, receiving medical care in hospital, being a prisoner in prison or jail, legal action in court. Often there is a different way of expressing the idea: 'She's at university' is similar to saying 'She's a student'.

Here are some more examples.

...once he is taken home from hospital.
In the morning all the peasants went to church.
He left school at seventeen.
...to decide whether to go to court or not.
His parents couldn't afford to send him to university.
After 11 days in prison they were released.

There are some differences between British and American usage here. Firstly, Americans say 'the hospital' instead of 'hospital' for institutional reference. Secondly, the word 'university' is not used in this way; the American equivalent of 'at university' is 'in college'.

'Bed' behaves in a similar way; without an article it means the place where we sleep or rest, not a particular object.

She went to bed and slept lightly.

  • +1 but a couple of criticisms. "Which school do you attend?" is not, I feel sure, a non-count usage. You could equally have said "Which of the following three schools do you attend?". Finally, you have not included the other instance where an article can be omitted - namely where you are speaking of a specific school. e.g. "He returned to school feeling much better". – WS2 Dec 22 '19 at 21:43
  • @WS2 Oops, you're right about Which school do you attend?; I changed that example. But can you explain why you are saying that he returned to school feeling much better is different from e.g. She drives the kids to school every morning? – linguisticturn Dec 22 '19 at 21:49
  • You are perhaps right - my apologies. However at an individual school, they may refer to e.g something being held in "school hall", or a practice being against "school rules". There is no question as to which school is referenced as it is obvious. If you refer to @Edwin Ashworth's comment he explains further. – WS2 Dec 29 '19 at 19:08
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"Schools always close for holidays" is a sentence about all schools.

"School always closes for holidays" is a statement about a specific (though perhaps theoretical) school. It means "My school always closes for holidays" or "One's school always closes for holidays."

"School" just works this way, where the name of the type of thing can serve as a name for the thing. Other places such as "church" and "work" can work this way, as can some relationship names like "mom" and "dad". "I need to hurry up and get to school, since Mom is already waiting for me there."

  • I'd say that school there is a concept, ergo, no article.... – Lambie Dec 22 '19 at 17:48
  • In "school is not job training; it is supposed to educate you," sure. In "I ran my fastest and managed to get to school in under 10 minutes this morning," I don't think I agree that it's being used as a concept. – Mike Graham Dec 22 '19 at 17:54
  • School is a pain in the rear. School always closes for the holidays. School is fun, work is not. Those are not referring to school as a generic thing? – Lambie Dec 22 '19 at 17:55

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