Compare school and the school:
Claudia is 10 years old. Every day she goes to school.
She’s at school now. School begins at 8:30 and ends at 3:00
We say a child goes to school or is in school (as a student).
We are not necessarily thinking of a specific school.
We re thinking of school as a general idea.
Today Claudia’s mother wants to speak to her daughter’s teacher.
So she has gone to the school to see her.
She’s at the school now.
Claudia’s mother is not a student.
She is not “in school,” she doesn’t “go to school.”
If she wants to see Claudia’s teacher, she goes to the school (= Claudia’s school, a specific school).
We use prison/jail, college, class, and church in a similar way.
We do not use the when we are thinking of the general idea of these places and what they are used for.
– Ken’s brother is in prison for robbery.
(He is a prisoner. We are not thinking of a specific prison.)
- When I finish high school, I want to go to college.
Mrs.Kelly goes to church every Sunday. (to a religious service)
I was in class for five hours today.
(= attending a class or classes in high school or college)
– Ken went to the prison to visit his brother. (He went as a visitor, not as a prisoner.)
- Dan is a student at the college where I used to work. (= a particular college)
Some workmen went to the church to repair the roof. (not for a religious service)
Who is the youngest student in the class? (= a specific group of students)
With most other places, you need the, For example, the hospital, the bank, the station.
We say go to bed / be in bed, etc. (not the bed):
– It’s time to go to bed now.
– Do you ever have breakfast in bed?
– I sat down on the bed. (a specific piece of furniture)
go to work / be at work / start work / finish work, etc. (not the work):
– Ann didn’t go to work yesterday.
– What time do you usually finish work?
go home / come home / arrive home / get home / be (at) home, etc:
– It’s late. Let’s go home.
– Will you be (at) home tomorrow afternoon?