A building to which people are legally committed as a punishment for a crime or while awaiting trial:

He died in prison.

Both men were sent to prison.

Why not He died in a prison? And is it possible to say He died in the prison if I want to talk abount the prison in which he died?

Are there any other noun with this characteristic?


1 Answer 1


Swan's PEU (3rd Edition) has an entry for this. It reads...

In some common fixed expressions to do with places, time and movement, normally countable nouns are treated as uncountable, without articles. - Swan's Practical English Usage, Entry 70.

Those common expressions include - to/at/in/from school/university/college; to/in/into/out of bed/prison.; at/from home.

Note: It specifies: in BrE, hospital does not take article. Good discussion about that topic is here, as mentioned by fluffy.

  • 2
    But there are situations where the use of an article is possible, even with those words. There is the school that burned down last year. The governor built a new prison. But even He died in the prison that he built himself! or He died in a prison that had been kept functioning only for his sake .
    – oerkelens
    Aug 21, 2014 at 8:17
  • Answer updated. However, I'd not prefer using a/the prison in last two examples of yours.
    – Maulik V
    Aug 21, 2014 at 9:09
  • 2
    You may prefer not to, but grammatically, it is needed. He died in prison that he built himself. is not grammatical.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 21, 2014 at 9:10
  • Trying to understand Swan's approach there. Any clue about the entry 70 then?
    – Maulik V
    Aug 21, 2014 at 9:12
  • 3
    Yups. He died in the prison that he built himself is not a certain fixed expression as meant by Swan. The fixed expression is in prison, not in <some adjectives> prison <some more stuff about the prison>. So he is in prison, but he is in a big prison, in a prison that will be closed soon.
    – oerkelens
    Aug 21, 2014 at 9:22

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