I’m going to see Batman in the theatre.

In the case that I’m going to see a specific movie, e.g. Batman, do I use definite or indefinite article in locative adjunct? (It’s not yet decided which theatre I would go to.)

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    I can't explain why, so I won't make this an answer, but for whatever reason we often use the definite article with places like "the theater", "the hospital", "the park", even if it's not decided which theater, hospital, or park we're referring to. Using the indefinite article here would sound wrong. – The Photon Sep 23 '14 at 23:35
  • @ThePhoton Consulting CGEL, both ‘the’ and ‘a’ can be interpreted either referentially or non-referentially, in the scope of verbs like want, which create hypothetical worlds. Other verbs that create such contexts include be going, intend, desire, ask for, look for, seek, dream. (p.404) So even ‘a theatre’ can be interpreted referential specific as in: I’m going to see Batman in a theatre (for which my friend already booked.) – Listenever Sep 24 '14 at 0:19
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    That may be true, but in idiomatic American English, in typical circumstances you would not say "I am going to see Batman in a theater". If I could explain why, I would make an answer. – The Photon Sep 24 '14 at 0:36
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    @ThePhoton - I agree that the definite article is often used in circumstances like this one. I disagree that the indefinite article would "sound wrong", particularly in certain contexts. For example: "I can't wait until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out on DVD." Answer: "I'm not waiting that long; I want to see it in a theater." – J.R. Sep 24 '14 at 1:04
  • @J.R., yes but...Q: "Where are you going tonight?" A: "I'm going to see Batman in a theater." (*) At least in my ideolect, this is wrong. – The Photon Sep 24 '14 at 1:06

As far as I know it's entirely idiomatic, with no particular reason, but when we talk about certain places we commonly use the definite article even when we're discussing an unspecified one out of several places:

I'm going to the theater.

(even if there are several theaters I might be going to)

Bob was in the hospital for three days.

We had fun at the park.

In none of these cases would we substitute "a" for "the".

Also note, British English (sometimes?) uses no article at all for the case of "hospital". ("Bob was in hospital for three days").

As J.R. points out, there are also cases where the indefinite or definite article could both be used:

Q: I can't wait until Guardians of the Galaxy comes out on DVD.

A: I'm not waiting that long; I want to see it in a (the) theater.

Unfortunately I can't tell you what makes this example different from the previous ones.


Thinking about CarSmack's comment, I think when we use "the" with a place we are implying that we were there to do whatever activity is typical in that place.

I went to the theater [to watch a movie].

Bob was in the hospital [to receive medical care].

If we talk about going to these places to do something non-typical, then using the indefinte article sounds more natural

I went to a hospital to repair the air-conditioning.


Q: Where do you work?

A: I work at a hospital [doing IT support].

  • I find nothing unnatural to AE that Bob was in a hospital for three days, or that we had fun at a park. To me, both these sentences fall under your second category: either definite or indefinite article--sometimes depending on context. – user6951 Sep 24 '14 at 18:54
  • @CarSmack If you say "Bob was in a hospital for 3 days" it sounds like maybe he got lost and was wandering the halls trying to find the exit. If you say he was in "the hospital" for 3 days it sounds like he was sick or injured and being cared for there. – The Photon Sep 24 '14 at 19:07
  • Yes, your Edit is about what I was now thinking: “(1) to do whatever activity is (2) typical in that place.” ‘The’, in ‘I’m going to the theater’, seems to denote two ways. It is “referential”, for indicating my going there and my time at the place. At the same time, it is “non-referential” (to refer to a thing in general), for it being connected with typical activity that the place renders. – Listenever Sep 25 '14 at 0:19
  • This view leaves the issue about (1) ‘play soccer’ vs (2) ‘play the violin.’ (2) can be explained by the former sayings. (The fact that ‘soccer’ is activity itself not instrument makes it not use article? It may not that simple, for we would say “she can dance the waltz. : 'Play' is light verb, 'dance' in not makes the difference? Difficult is the learning.) Thank you for giving me a pleasurable time for thinking about this matter. – Listenever Sep 25 '14 at 0:26

If you mean you will not see in the house, for example, or in another place and you wanted to clarify that the place where you will see the film is "Theatre", then, use "The" as you did.

Otherwise, use "A" because you didn't identify which theatre to watch the film at.

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    use "A" because you didn't identify which theatre to watch the film at... This is an oft-quoted and oversimplified way to say when to use one article instead of the other. One can say, "We're going to the theater tonight to watch Batman," and the answer might be, "Which theater?" – J.R. Sep 24 '14 at 1:06
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    Drive-by upvoters: Why do you think this answer is correct? – The Photon Sep 24 '14 at 16:31

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