Using “The” When You’re a Member of an Institution

Posted on October 11, 2016

Is your English teacher always telling you to add or remove “the”? “The” is also called “the definite article” in English. Here’s our quick guide on how to use the definite article for institutions. It depends on whether you’re a member of the institution or not. Today we will look at universities, hospitals, churches and prisons.

How to use the definite article for institutions: University

Should we say “I’m going to university” or “I’m going to the university”? It depends. Do you go to university regularly as a student, or as a visitor? “I’m going to university” sounds like you are a student of that university. “I’m going to the university” seems like you are visiting as an academic or as a prospective student. Perhaps you’re going to “the university” as a one-off to make a presentation there. It depends on whether you are a member of that institution or not.

Definite article: Hospital

Likewise, we say we are going to “hospital” if we are a patient, or “the hospital” if we are a visitor or if we work at the hospital. Americans may use “the” in both cases in this example here.


If I say “I went to church” you may assume I have a religious reason for going, and I am a member of that church. “If I say “I went to the church” perhaps I visited the church for a fair or as a tourist.


“Prison” is another example of an institution. Next time you read about a crime in the paper, note whether the criminals are are “going to prison” where they will be members of that institution. Perhaps their families will “go to the prison” to visit them.

So in summary, here’s how to use the definite article for institutions:

  • Use “the” if it’s not your usual institution.
  • Don’t use “the” if it’s an institution you are a member of or go to regularly.

Using “the” in English can be a real pain – you’ll get there! It’s easier to learn the rules bit by bit like this. 

For excellent English classes at your company in London send us a quick email today! 

Let us know if you have any questions, or requests for future blog posts on Facebook or Twitter.

Facebook Comments
Call Now Button