Why must we add an 's? Why "she is at the dentist's now" instead of "at the dentist"?

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    Either is perfectly correct. – Hot Licks Jan 19 '15 at 12:50
  • Good point. One could not say, she is at the butcher, or fishmonger or green grocer. I wonder why dentist is different? – Greenonline Aug 25 '15 at 10:36

We don't have to. It's equally correct to say

She is at the dentist now.

(you can interpret "the dentist" as a synecdoche in which the person stands in for the place) or

She is at the dentist's now.

(an elliptical way of saying "She is at the dentist's office now*).

Which you choose probably depends on what you hear more.

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  • 2
    Agreed, but is it really grammatically correct to say "at the dentist"? It wouldn't be correct to say "he is at John", would it? – PbxMan Jan 19 '15 at 12:36
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    @Mynamite Agreed. What if you were writing a book? In that case you would try to have the best grammar as possible. English is my second language, I believe that people whose first language is English also make plenty of mistakes. Nevertheless I've never heard anything like "He's at the greengrocer". – PbxMan Jan 19 '15 at 13:13
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    -1 "Dentist" is a place? – Kris Jan 19 '15 at 13:19
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    Thanks, Kris. It just wouldn't be the same without a down vote from you. – Robusto Jan 19 '15 at 13:27
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    @pbxMan: I think you can interpret "the dentist" as a synecdoche in which the person stands in for the place. – Robusto Jan 19 '15 at 13:52

Adding the 's to make "dentist's" indicates the place owned by the dentist - in this case the dentist's surgery.

It is common to say that you are "at" a place - e.g. at the office or at the railway station. So "at the dentist's" is correct.

It is not common to say that you are "at" a person. "She is with the dentist now" would sound better.

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    This is particularly common in areas where the Doctor's surgery or Dentist's Office are literally owned by the Doctor/Dentist - ie in the UK, Doctors usually (as a group) own the practice they work for. – Jon Story Jan 19 '15 at 14:00

While most people would recognize "at the dentist" as not quite correct, it is used quite often simply because it is easier (and neater) to say. "Dentist's" can get juicy, especially if you spend a lot of time at the dentist's getting bridgework on your front teeth. Americans are really conscious of spitting when they talk.(US)

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  • I don't think this is correct but it made me laugh. – Joshua Walsh Jan 20 '15 at 2:28

Grammatically, "dentist" is being used as a placename here, referring to the office itself. That trailing "'s" was phased out of day to day usage in many places, many years ago. Specifying "dentist's" in some regions of the United States would sound, or be considered, overly fussy or exact. Probably not enough that someone would mention it to you, but enough that it would impart a tone to your conversations. This is a natural process of language becoming more efficient, as words take on contextual meanings.

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