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I think I have come across sentences such as:

  • Did you go to school today?
  • The child behaved well at preschool today.
  • He studied Physics at university.

Is it always fine to omit an article before a place in a sentence?

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  • Depends on your dialect. "He studied Physics at university" is often seen in the UK, but hardly ever in the US. So I urge those answering to specify where their answer applies.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 5, 2022 at 1:45
  • @GEdgar Really? Besides Americans normally referring to "university" as "college", it's quite natural for them to say, "He studied physics in college", and odd to say, "He studied physics in the college". The latter suggests there's only one college in town, and he went to that one.
    – gotube
    Feb 5, 2022 at 2:35
  • Note the difference between 'We went to school today' and 'We went to the school today'. Also that 'I have to go to hospital for a few days to have my back treated' but 'I have to go to the infirmary for a few days to have my back treated' are not interchangeable in the view of most people in the UK. See this answer. Feb 5, 2022 at 16:28

2 Answers 2

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In AmE, several nouns that represent places (including "home", "college", "work", "church", and "school", as well as related nouns such as "preschool") do not require determiners in general.

Note that a determiner might be needed in a particular situation (for example, to distinguish "my school" from "that school").

Also, usage differs by region and over time. In the U.S. one can "go to church" or "go to temple" but it is less common to "go to mosque". Nevertheless, the latter expression is seen, and I expect that "mosque" will eventually become just like the other words.

As noted in the comments, I believe that BrE includes other nouns in this group, such as "university" and "hospital", but I can't comment very knowledgeably on that dialect.

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The article may be omitted for certainly buildings which are institutions, and when the visit is for the purpose of participating in that institutions.

So at church means not just physically in or near the church building, but taking part in the church's activities: for most people it would mean attending a service, but for church officials, it might include doing other parts of their duties. At the church on the other hand, means physically in or near a church building, but not for ecclesiastical purposes.

As others have said, which buildings this applies to varies across different Englishes: in British English, we say in hospital whereas American English says in the hospital.

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