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How are you?

Sometimes I see that the article "the" is used in front of the words CHURCH, SCHOOL, PRISON, CLASS, and COLLEGE. And sometimes no article is used in front of them. Could you please tell me why? When should we used "the" in front of the above words and when shouldn't we use the article "the?"

For example, which one is correct?

a) Right now, Peter is in church.

b) Right now, Peter is in the church.

Thank you so much for taking the time to help me.

All the best

Hi Hame,

The use of articles in English is one of the more ambiguous features of the language, and, truthfully, there are times when I have trouble making up my mind about whether to use an article or not. The situation is complicated by the fact that some people, often choose not to use them simply for the sake of brevity.

The Purdue University Writing Lab has as good an explanation of the use of articles as any site of which I am aware, so I suggest reading it thoroughly.

With regard to your specific question regarding these two sentences, both are correct, but have somewhat different meanings.

a) Means that Peter is attending a religious service, probably in a church. But you can have church services in places that are not actual church facilities, and in such cases church refers to either the service or the congregation. Some Protestant denominations in this country (USA)are quite insistent that CHURCH refers to the the membership and not to the building. On some of them, you will see announcements like, "The Church of Christ meets here."

b) Means that Peter is in a specific church building, probably one nearby, but may or may not be involved in a service. All we can really glean from this sentence is that he is in the building.

Hope this helps, but go ahead and read the Purdue link. Also, most style guides will address this issue in considerable detail. For American English, especially scholarly writing, the Chicago Manual of Style is the one most other manuals refer back to. Also, I regard Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage as definitive in most cases. You won't be led astray by either of them, and if writing well in American English is important to you, I recommend having both.

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Dan Smith


I have been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years, taught speech and English composition at the university level, and have developed speech and English composition courses and seminars for businesses. I am experienced in editing a wide variety of materials, especially business, scientific, and other academic papers. I am familiar with all the major style guides.


I have edited any number of graduate papers and other technical materials in such advanced fields as clinical psychology, civil and electrical engineering, and semiconductor fabrication. I have extensive experience in working with non-native English speakers.

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