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He was feeling bad. He went to work, however, and tried to concentrate.

If you are native English speakers and come across the sentence above, will you think of the word 'work' as a noun or a verb?

English learners and teachers have difficulty in understanding this type of parts of speech.

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  • How does "He went to work" differ significantly from "He went to Birmingham" or "He went to the shops"? Neither Birmingham nor "the shops" are verbs. A very simplistic definition of a verb I leant when I was young is that they are "doing" words. Some words can be verbs but also nouns. For example "I run in the park" (run is a verb) "I went to the park for a run" (run is a noun). Many English words can be multiple parts of speech, see this answer ell.stackexchange.com/questions/8235/… Apr 10, 2023 at 16:50
  • You shouldn't look at just the word work in isolation. It's part of the adverbial element to work. Compare with He felt bad so he went home, where the adverbial element doesn't start with a preposition. Apr 10, 2023 at 17:19
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    I think that's just quirky phrasing for the sake of it - chaining an adverbial element of purpose after the adverb of "direction / destination" (where the two elements just happen to look the same! :) If you compare it with "I go to work to relax", where the two adverbials aren't the same words, it should be easy to see the different syntactic roles if you try to swap them over: "I go to relax to work" is NOT semantically or syntactically valid (but with to work to work, no-one would notice the switchover! :) Apr 10, 2023 at 22:10
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    I'd say that "work" means place of work, meaning that it's a noun functioning as object of the preposition "to".
    – BillJ
    Apr 11, 2023 at 6:56
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    Work can be both a noun and a verb. In your example it functions as a noun. It's work in the sense of "a place of employment" - the place where he works.
    – Billy Kerr
    Apr 11, 2023 at 21:33

2 Answers 2

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It's a noun. As a lifetime English speaker, I can say that almost always "he went to work" refers to "work" as a place. Very rarely could it be a verb. It could if it was proceeded by, for example, "Why did he go into the basement?" "Oh, he went there to work". In this case "to" is a contraction for "in order to".

It sounds odd to use "to" with a verb this way unless you are referring to the reason for a person going somewhere". You may say "He went skiing" or "He went running". But you would not say "He went to ski" or "He went to run", unless "to" is referring to "in order to".

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We can avoid possible ambiguities with a slight rewording:

He was feeling bad, so he went = returned to work and tried to distract himself.

Here “to” is a preposition, and “work” is a noun. We could replace it with his job and the meaning would remain unchanged.

He was feeling bad; so he went = got down to work, and tried to distract himself.

Here “to” is the infinitival particle, and “work” is the verb. We could replace it with a different verb e.g., study and the sentence would remain meaningful.

return

  1. To go or come back, as to an earlier condition or place:
  • She returned to her office after lunch.

get down to work is an idiom

To begin being serious about something; to begin attending to business or work at hand

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