I usually say "I'm gonna ride the bus"

But why is it "the" instead of "a" or nothing.

Sometimes a noun doesn't need "the" or "a"

Like some people say "call transportation" or "goto school"

Transportation and school are both nouns but why don't they need anything before these words?

How do you determine when you need the or a or when it doesn't need anything?

  • 2
    I'm gonna ride the bus shows that you know which bus you're taking. If you say I'm gonna ride a bus, it means that it's not specified which one you're taking.
    – Schwale
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 13:24
  • 2
    @Ustanak that's not necessarily true. If I'm going to take the bus to the museum, I certainly do not know which vehicle I'll be on, and I may not even know which route I'll be on. It seems to be referring to bus transportation generally.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 22:31

2 Answers 2


We normally use the to refer to transportation methods that run on a fixed route, as in

I took the bus to school.
I took the subway to work.
I took the shuttle to the hotel.

We are not really talking about an individual bus but rather a means of getting from one place to another. The same can be said for I took the elevator to the fifth floor. When we want to refer to an individual bus, shuttle, or elevator, we can use either a/an or the depending on whether we think the listener knows which one we are talking about. If so, we would normally use the.

And we use a (an) to refer to transportation methods that do not run on a fixed route:

I took a taxi to John's house.
I took a limousine to the theater.

For school and home see

What's the difference between "go", "go to", and "go to the"?.

There is no easy way to determine when you use which article. Many uses are idiomatic and must be learned one at a time. Just expose yourself to more and more native English in natural contexts. Article usage and use of prepositions are two of the most difficult aspects of English for learners to master.


"I am going to ride the bus." implies that there is a bus that is commonly known about and there for the purpose of riding to a certain destination. " It implies that there is a specific bus that you know about to use.

"I am going to ride a bus." implies that you have considered different modes of transportation (boats, bicycles, on foot, etc.) and have decided to choose a bus. This implies that you will have to find THE specific bus to ride..

You can NOT say "ride bus".

Some nouns require "determiners" and some do not.
School and Transportation, (being organizations) are mass nouns that require no determiner article because they are uncountable.
Here is a great article on the subject. http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/when-to-use-articles-before-nouns.

"I'm gonna" is extremely colloquial, and not strictly correct. I'm going to would be a much better choice of words.

  • 3
    Actually, "the bus" seems to refer to the entire mode of transporation by bus. When one says "I'm going to ride the bus" it does not matter whether one knows which specific vehicle or even specific route is involved.
    – phoog
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 22:29
  • @photog Yes, I agree with you, BUT - it implies that you know such a bus actually exists... That, in fact, there is a bus system for you to ride...
    – Msfolly
    Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 22:39
  • The distinction between "ride the bus" and "ride a bus" sounds so logical and appealing… but it's actually wrong. @GoDucks has the right explanation. Commented Feb 5, 2016 at 23:16

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