British-English accent question.
February 19, 2006 11:50 AM   Subscribe

How come British English-speakers never say "I am going to THE hospital"? It's always "I am going to hospital."? We actually got BBC America and why do that is driving me crazy....thanks to anyone who helps.

Also -- If someone can tell me why go "Chelsea are winning the game" instead of "Chelsea is winning the game" that would be great too...
posted by skepticallypleased to Society & Culture (44 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Previously
posted by luftmensch at 11:58 AM on February 19, 2006


In reverse order: British English tends to use the plural for collective nouns composed of distinct individuals, especially teams -- an implied 'we' and plural 'you', rather than an 'it'.

As for 'hospital', it's because it's a generic term, rather than referring to a specific location: a child 'goes to school', not to the school; a sick or injured person goes to hospital, not to the hospital.

Also, the feeling is mutual: those American English variants drive Brits up the wall, too. "Going to 'the hospital'? You mean there's only one?"
posted by holgate at 11:59 AM on February 19, 2006


Perhaps because with the NHS (National Health Service), we get free health care. Therefore, we can go to multiple hospitals (rather than being tied to one hospital by having to pay for it), and may be referred to different ones for different things by our doctor. So, we're going to hospital, because it could be a different one and we're not always going to the same one.

As for Chelsea - because we're referring to the multiple players who make up the team, rather than the team in the singular.
posted by djgh at 12:00 PM on February 19, 2006


You shouldn't watch UK TV if this drives you crazy. Just be happy that in this case you can clearly tell what they're talking about. There are other British-isms that are like a completely different language.
posted by smackfu at 12:06 PM on February 19, 2006


Americans "go to prison" don't they? (Not all of them, obviously).
posted by teleskiving at 12:08 PM on February 19, 2006


Sorry about that left -- I did a search for English accent and hospital and English acccent and use of article but nothing came up (ok on the first page at least). I figured it was asked before but was too lazy to find out exactly where.

....So are we wrong when we state "Pittsburgh is winning the Super Bowl"?
posted by skepticallypleased at 12:14 PM on February 19, 2006


I remember something like this popping up in Latin. In Latin, you can go to Rome, Home, and the Country, in the same sense, I think.

Okay, so its slight tangent.

Teleskiving, in the same line, you can also "go to jail." (witholds monopoly reference)
posted by Atreides at 12:19 PM on February 19, 2006


Americans "go to prison" don't they? (Not all of them, obviously).
posted by teleskiving at 12:08 PM PST on February 19


+5 funny points. bravo.
posted by eustatic at 12:22 PM on February 19, 2006


No, because there is only one Super Bowl (each year).
posted by Airhen at 12:23 PM on February 19, 2006


No, no one is wrong. You would use "Pittsburgh is winning" if you meant to say that the team as a whole is winning. You would say "Pittsburgh are winning" if you wanted to emphasize the individual players which, as a collective, make up the team.

That doesn't make a lot of sense with that particular example, but think about bands. "U2 is playing tonight" vs. "U2 are breaking up."
posted by mmcg at 12:24 PM on February 19, 2006


You could say 'going to the hospital' in England and not really be out of place or 'going into hospital'.
posted by lunkfish at 12:35 PM on February 19, 2006


go to the hell!
posted by twiggy at 12:44 PM on February 19, 2006


I have trouble in my own country! Do I stand ON line or IN line?
posted by Postroad at 12:58 PM on February 19, 2006


This has nothing to do with accent (which involves phonology). That's probably why your search didn't work.
posted by altolinguistic at 1:00 PM on February 19, 2006


In British English, "going to the hospital" would mean travelling to a particular hospital; it also doesn't imply anything about the purpose of the visit.

"Going to hospital" means the same thing as "being hospitalized". It doesn't matter which hospital, but it does imply that you're going there as a patient.

Similarly, a child's parent might "go to the school" for some reason, but you wouldn't say they were "going to school".
posted by nowonmai at 1:00 PM on February 19, 2006 [1 favorite]


Similarly, a child's parent might "go to the school" for some reason, but you wouldn't say they were "going to school".

This points out to me why I think the British way is better. Otherwise you get the following conversation:

A: She's not around. She went to the hospital.
B: What?? Is she ok?
C: Oh yeah. She just went there to visit a friend.
posted by vacapinta at 1:07 PM on February 19, 2006


Kinda like "going to church" instead of "going to the church"?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:09 PM on February 19, 2006


Luftmensch's link is pretting interesting. It's not really about NHS or choice of hospitals (and if it was the latter, why not "he's gone to a(n) hospital" or "she's off at pub" for that matter). And Americans say "he's in the hospital" without meaning any specific one.

I'll hazard my own dumb theory that this is done to hint the person is out of reach doing something that is occupying all their time, putting them in a certain special state of humanhood where the specific location isn't the important thing. It's a matter of a status being described along with the place that goes with that status. (Is "going to bed" this sort of statement?)
posted by fleacircus at 1:20 PM on February 19, 2006


I figured the Brits had some more sense to it than we did. Thanks for the responses....and, well, ok it was not driving me exactly crazy....it's just that when the old country breaks the rules of grammar we are taught in elementary school -- it's strange.

I'm actually surprised that British rules never trump whoever comes up with the English grammar rules.
posted by skepticallypleased at 1:29 PM on February 19, 2006


Being a Brit living in the states I've come across 'the hospital' thing. I always thought, like djgh, that it was because of the NHS, but I'm not convinced by that. It seems like this is one of the rare instances that the British form is more consistent.
posted by ob at 1:33 PM on February 19, 2006


My gut tells me (and we all know how reliable that is) that this is one of those fixed habits of use that's slightly different in the two countries, but has no underlying logic.

Americans go to church, go to jail, go to college (note that the British and Australians may say "go to university," which I always find a little jarring). But we also go to the hospital, go to the store, go to the bank, go to the mall, go to the post office.
posted by adamrice at 2:05 PM on February 19, 2006


Postroad:
You stand IN line.
The internets renders obsolete using the other preposition when queueing up, because now, being online means something entirely different.
posted by Rash at 2:08 PM on February 19, 2006


Perhaps because with the NHS (National Health Service), we get free health care. Therefore, we can go to multiple hospitals...So, we're going to hospital, because it could be a different one and we're not always going to the same one.

I'm not sure this was explained fully, but I think it's an interesting case, at least... Brits have an institution that is largely "the same" across various instantiations, as we usually consider "school", "church", "prison" - at least classicly, if you "go to school" you're taking part in something more abstract than that particular building and the folks in it - you're engaging in the idea of school, so to speak. If you go to the school, it's an individual destination. It seems like things which are largely "public" institutions, which everyone is expected to have the same experience with, get the article dropped. If you're going to the church, it's for some particular errand or visit; if you're "going to church", it's presumed to be for a service that is totally analogous to a similar event across the population.

But we don't say we're "going to grocery" or "going to cafe" or "going to concert", because they aren't regular, identical experiences in everyone's life; they're individual, random, particular events, involving specific businesses or people. The american experience of healthcare is more like that...

re: is/are, collective nouns in british english (such as teams or bands) are presumed to implicitly be a "they" rather than an "it". We would say "they are winning the game" rather than "it" (the team) is winning the game, were we to switch to pronouns, although people will sometimes say "it's a great team" rather than "they're a great team". A team or band (or other group noun) seems to be able to be an "it" only when it's directly self-referential (it is a team), not when the pronoun is meant to stand alone in representing "the team", i.e., "it is having a great season". So again, I think the brits are more consistent.
posted by mdn at 2:08 PM on February 19, 2006


There are also regional variations. I've a tendency to drop "the" even when it's needed. I'll got to shops, listen to White Stripes, put petrol in car, etc. It may just be that the tendency to not use "the" at all times is indicative of this regional variation.
posted by seanyboy at 2:16 PM on February 19, 2006


So shouldn't Brits be consistent and also say "I'm going to library/restaurant/museum etc.?"
posted by Devils Slide at 2:45 PM on February 19, 2006


Just be happy that in this case you can clearly tell what they're talking about. There are other British-isms that are like a completely different language.

And for those times, Translate British.com. English to... um... British translation.
posted by disillusioned at 2:48 PM on February 19, 2006


Brits and Aussies say they're "going to university" because they never developed the tradition of having free-standing institutions called "colleges."

Overseas, colleges are simply administrative or residential units of universities. (This is also obviously true in the U.S., where most big universities contain administrative or residential colleges.) Stand-alone liberal arts colleges, like Swarthmore or Williams, are (or are close to) a uniquely American thing.

The even stranger American use was the habit of calling a comprehensive university a "College" -- although, most such "Colleges" have been renamed "Universities" in the past few decades -- Dartmouth being a militant exception, of course.
posted by MattD at 4:08 PM on February 19, 2006


Do Americans say "I went to University", or do they say "I went to the University?"
posted by seanyboy at 4:33 PM on February 19, 2006


Generally we say "I went to college". If we say "I went to the University" it's referring to a specific one (for example, here in Seattle, if I said that, people would probably think I meant the University of Washington, even though there are other universities here). If someone here says "I went to University" it would mark him/her as a Canadian. ;)
posted by litlnemo at 4:44 PM on February 19, 2006


Canadians have public health insurance, but we still say we're going to the hospital. It doesn't mean a particular hospital, really.
posted by acoutu at 5:14 PM on February 19, 2006


Brits and Aussies say they're "going to university" because they never developed the tradition of having free-standing institutions called "colleges."

Oh really?
posted by chrismear at 5:15 PM on February 19, 2006


Oh god, I completely misunderstood what you were saying. Just ignore me.
posted by chrismear at 5:17 PM on February 19, 2006


if you "go to school" you're taking part in something more abstract than that particular building and the folks in it - you're engaging in the idea of school, so to speak.

And to get a clearer sense of the derivation, think of 'going to work', where there's an elision between an infinitive form (I am going somewhere to do some work) and a transitive form (I am going to the place where I work). It's the performative aspect that's important, I think.
posted by holgate at 5:41 PM on February 19, 2006


you're going to get there faster if you just say 'I'm going to hospital'.
posted by amusem at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2006


Most Canadians, at least in Ontario or on the CBC, will say 'in hospital' and 'at university', but the American form is familiar enough to not sound wrong. I like holgates' explaination.

The collective nouns make less sense to me, but I've made peace with them. They even sound nice to me, as long as the speaker does not sound North American.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:21 PM on February 19, 2006


in the same line, you can also "go to jail."

Whereas the Brits go to gaol.

(This confused the hell, or "haol," out of me the first time I saw it. It's pronounced "jail" just in case you're as confused as I was. [The "haol" is a joke, Brits don't spell "hell" that way.])

It also took me a while before I realized a tyre was the same thing as a tire, and a kerb was the same thing as a curb. They're pronounced the same, mean the same, but are spelled differently.
posted by kindall at 8:36 PM on February 19, 2006


Whereas the Brits go to gaol.

Not in the last three decades, at very least. It's an archaism, and only really used to describe old prison buildings. Heck, even the Monopoly board says 'Go to Jail... Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect £200'.

('Go to bed' is another one where the transitive object is really a stand-in for an act or function. The dialectal versions are different: 'trouble at t'mill' is just elision.)
posted by holgate at 11:42 PM on February 19, 2006


Yes, saying "going to hospital" is gramatically correct, but we British aren't always totally correct: in the same way that Americans say, "I went to the club," we say, "I went to the pub." (Interestingly, however, we say, "I went to a club.")
posted by pollystark at 3:31 AM on February 20, 2006


Very slight derail - the thing that annoyed me most about Match Point (and there were quite a few things) was the characters constantly saying that they were going to The Tate Modern. No one here ever says The TM, only Tate Modern and Tate Britain. The latter used to be The Tate, which may be where the confusion arose.
posted by featherboa at 5:43 AM on February 20, 2006


Why do people have this ingrained belief that there must be one and only one "correct" way to say anything? In Britain, "to hospital" is "correct" (i.e., that's how people say it); in the US, "to the hospital" is. If you say "to hospital" in the US, you're not "wrong," you're just talking like a Brit. Similarly, "standing on line" is the way they say it in NYC, "in line" most other places. If we could just get rid of this fixation on correctness, we'd 1) have a better grasp of language, and 2) be able to focus on things that actually make a difference.
posted by languagehat at 5:49 AM on February 20, 2006


If we could just get rid of this fixation on correctness,

you're so focused on your pet issue that you've missed the point of this question- it is not about which is "correct" - it's about why it has evolved differently in different cultures. You can suggest that there is no reason and it's just random, but to make a point of telling people that "neither is more correct" is irrelevant to this discussion.
posted by mdn at 7:46 AM on February 20, 2006


Well, except that upon getting an answer the OP then assumed that the US usage was therefore "wrong."
posted by occhiblu at 8:48 AM on February 20, 2006


Also:

t's just that when the old country breaks the rules of grammar we are taught in elementary school -- it's strange.

You stand IN line.

we British aren't always totally correct


That sort of thing is inevitable in these threads, and I don't see why you're so invested in believing I'm making it up.

For fuck's sake, if you don't like my attempts to educate the populace, don't read them. From my perspective, I'm engaged in a never-ending quest to get at least a few people to realize how misguided their assumptions about language are; it's as if you found yourself back in ancient times and were trying to explain to people the earth goes around the sun and not vice versa. If you don't like it, too bad. But then, I can see where it would bother you, since you seem to think language should be "consistent." So I'll tell you what, you don't tell me what to say and I won't tell you what to say.
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on February 20, 2006


sorry.
posted by mdn at 4:44 PM on February 20, 2006


« Older Classical cliches   |   Can I recieve a 501(c)(3) status Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.