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In my post of 18 February, I considered the omission of the article before the words ‘conference’ and counsel’. I have recently been delighted to discover from Arnold Zwicky that there is a word, ‘anarthrous’, that describes the result of such omission. Here are some further reflections on the subject.

In addition to the instances I mentioned, the omission seems to be quite normal before acronyms: ‘NATO’ and not ‘the NATO’, even though in full we should be more likely to find ‘the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’. It is not, however, normally found before intialisms: ‘the BBC’ and not ‘BBC’. (I understand, however, that those in the know, will refer to ‘CIA’ rather than ‘the CIA’.) It is now also normal before the names of countries that might once have been preceded by the definite article. So, we now have ‘Lebanon’, and not ‘the Lebanon’, ‘Argentina’ and not ‘the Argentine’,’ Sudan’ and not ‘the Sudan’, ‘Yemen’ and not ‘the Yemen’ and ‘Ivory Coast’ and not ‘the Ivory Coast’.

There seems to be a transatlantic difference over whether we ‘go to hospital’ or whether we ‘go to the hospital’. I understand that only the latter is found in North America. In Britain, on the other hand, a sick person is more likely to have to ‘go to hospital’ (or perhaps ‘go into hospital’) rather than ‘go to the hospital’. However, a doctor who has inpatients to attend to might say that he has to ‘go to the hospital’ every Tuesday and Thursday.

Where do children go when they reach a certain age? In Britain, and quite possibly in North America too, they ‘go to school’ and don’t ‘go to the school’. And, before that, don’t they ‘go to kindergarten’? On the other hand, if your child is not performing well, you might say you intended to ‘go to the school’ to discuss the matter with the teacher.

Some other destinations are less clear-cut. Do you ‘go to gym every Wednesday’ or do you ‘go to the gym every Wednesday’?


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