I did some study and feel that

if Bob is a patient, we can only say "Bob is in hospital".

and if Bob is a visitor who visits a patient, we can only say "Bob is at hospital".

I am not sure, I just made a guess based on examples found in dictionaries.

Are they true?

This question is not about prepositions in front of "hospital" in general.

It is about a common usage of "hospital".

For example,

I don't think anyone would say "If you drive fast, you will end up at hospital" (sound very weird)

But most people would say "If you drive fast, you will end up in hospital (British) / in the hospital (American)"

How can you explain that?

  • Does this answer your question? Usage of articles before the noun 'hospital' Feb 7, 2023 at 17:09
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    I would use at the hospital for visiting a patient or attending a clinic. Feb 7, 2023 at 17:12
  • @KateBunting, No, because my question is totally different. It is more specific, I have a strong feeling that "in hospital" is for patients. Several examples say that
    – Tom
    Feb 7, 2023 at 17:15
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    Several answers to that question say that in hospital is correct in British English (for an in-patient), but Americans tend to say in the hospital. Feb 7, 2023 at 17:20
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    Does this answer your question? at vs in (the hospital) - What is different?
    – ColleenV
    Feb 7, 2023 at 18:07

2 Answers 2


There might be a US/UK split regarding OP's potential distinction, because Americans nearly always include the article in He's in the hospital, whereas most Brits just say He's in hospital.

The BrE in version almost always means he's in hospital as a patient (usually, staying overnight or longer).

If someone says He's at the hospital, to a Brit that would normally mean he's there for some other reason (perhaps being treated in A&E, perhaps he's a visitor, or perhaps he works there). I expect that's the same for Americans - they certainly do use the expression, as you can see from that link.

Hardly anyone on either side of the pond ever says He's at hospital with no article. So I suspect the most likely meaning for that one is simply "non-native speaker"!

If you follow my route instructions, you will end up at the hospital. But nobody says at hospital - it's not like He's at school or I'm at home.

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    In American English, "at the hospital" would also suggest being at the hospital for some other reason (i.e., not having been admitted as a patient). As you note, we would say "in the hospital," not "in hospital."
    – alphabet
    Feb 7, 2023 at 21:38
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    I kinda suspected that anyway. I partly feigned ignorance about the preposition usage in my first sentence just so I could make that point about including the article or not. I'm first and foremost a Brit, so I'll let my answer continue to reek of "Britishness", but your comment is all that's needed to alert learners that even though there's a US/UK usage split re the article, we're singing from the same hymn-sheet with the preposition. (Except there aren't so many hymn-singing Brits today as there are Yanks! :) Feb 7, 2023 at 22:51

In British English, "in hospital" idiomatically means someone has been admitted as an inpatient, which normally involves an overnight stay. We don't tend to say this about people visiting a hospital for other means such as outpatients or day cases.

Example: "Bob had a fall and is in hospital".

In American English, the equivalent of this is "in the hospital".

But, in British English, we would say "in the hospital" in many other contexts where we mean inside the hospital building, for example "Doctor Jones works in the hospital". I believe American English speakers would say the same.

The difference between being 'in' and 'at' a building can be found in other answers on this site, but broadly speaking being "at the hospital" could mean that you have arrived at, but not entered the building, or possibly that you are in some other building on the hospital premises. For example, "I work at the hospital" could mean you work in connected offices but not actually in a medical area in the main building. These examples are not an exhaustive list.

We would not say someone was "at hospital" or "at the hospital" to specifically mean they were being treated. If someone told me "Bob is at the hospital" I would ask "why?"

  • But Brits don't say he works in the hospital, as that chart clearly shows. A few Americans do, but in recent decades they've switched to following the BrE convention. Feb 7, 2023 at 18:42
  • @FumbleFingers You can wave a chart around all you like - I've worked in the NHS (the British National Health Service) for 24 years and I absolutely promise you that we (my colleagues and I) would say someone works "in the hospital" to mean they worked in the main hospital building, as opposed to the peripheral offices.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 7, 2023 at 21:28
  • @FumbleFingers Also, I object to being called a 'Brit', please don't do it again. We don't use slang terms for other English-speaking nationalities so kindly don't use it about mine.
    – Astralbee
    Feb 7, 2023 at 21:35

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