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You have this children's song "little piggy" and it goes "this little piggy went to market". Why the market is without an article?

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    Lyrics and poems often sacrifice grammatically, or at least employ non-standard usage, to meet the needs of meter and rhyme. That said, I believe that in BrE, at least, "go to market" is acceptable, and follows the convention of "go to school" or "go to bed" (essentially because there's only one, primary, market you could be referencing). In AmE we would not say "go to market" in everyday speech; it would be received as unidiomatic.
    – Dan Bron
    Jun 19, 2015 at 19:36
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    The term "Go to market" is also used figuratively, without an article.
    – Glorfindel
    Jun 19, 2015 at 19:45
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    "Go to market" means "Go to a location where small commerce is done and engage in activities typical of that location." "Go to the market" means go to the location, whether or not you intend to do some shopping. The farmer and the scullery maid go to market. The health inspector and the pickpocket go to the market.
    – Adam
    Jun 19, 2015 at 22:22
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    Is it perhaps a play on words, as "go to market" could be referring to the pig going to (the) market to buy things OR the pig going to market - as the produce!
    – brendan
    Jun 23, 2015 at 1:44

3 Answers 3

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This is an instance of zero article, where the article is dropped in certain circumstances. One of them is for "mass nouns", like "coffee" and "bread" where there is an indefinite quantity of the thing. "Market" is sometimes used this way when referencing either the abstract marketplace, or in this case a large amorphous marketplace like you might have at a village square or whatever.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-marking_in_English#Zero_article

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  • Is this similar to the use of "university" without the article as typically spoken in the UK?
    – Andrew
    Jun 24, 2015 at 17:34
  • @Andrew: I think so. Or in American usage, college. As e.g. "My kid's going to college now." "Where?" "Harvard" - even though Harvard is a university.
    – jamesqf
    Jun 24, 2015 at 18:01
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It may be said, tongue in cheek, that English speakers do the following in their life:

go to hospital (to be born)
go to church (to be baptized)
go to bed (to go to sleep)
go to market (to buy some food)
go to school (to be educated)
go to college (to be educated some more)
go to work (to get ahead)
go to pot (to become useless)
go to court
go to jail, ("go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200" as the popular board game Monopoly says.)
go to seed (decline in appearance)
go to meet one's maker (to die)
go to hell or perhaps go to heaven

That's just a handful of examples where no article is used.

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    This doesn't really seem to address the question, just give a set of somewhat similar examples. Jun 24, 2015 at 22:06
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    Americans do all of these except the first: we go to "the" hospital. We also go to "the store" or "the [farmer's] market" much more often than plain old "market". Jun 25, 2015 at 1:21
  • The common thread is that these nouns are treated more as institutions than as places. Jun 25, 2015 at 5:25
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It is an old rhyme and reflects an older use of English. Today we would say 'go to the market'.

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