The other day, in a flash of inspiration, I wrote a picture book story about a little girl who yearns for tutus and soon receives so many . . . well, I don’t want to spoil the plotLola in pink tutu.

But because I’m no artist, I designed a contest and invited graphic designers and illustrators to submit sketches for the project.  The contest is going well, but I’ve noticed something peculiar.

One of the page spreads in my story has this line:  On Sunday, I will wear the white tutu when I go to church.

Two of the artists chose to illustrate that page with charming illustrations, yet BOTH of them wrote the text like this:  On Sunday, I will wear the white tutu when I go to the church.

My daughter, who has been helping me evaluate the submitted sketches, didn’t understand why I pointed out the curious discrepancy.

“They both wrote go to THE church,” I told her. “We don’t say that. We go to church, period. It makes me wonder if the second artist copied the typo from the first.”

My daughter shook her head. “People who don’t go to church don’t say that. They’d say, ‘I’m going down to the church.”

So I’ve been pondering that for a couple of hours.  I say, “I’m going to the church” if I’m going there to drop off a package or meet my husband or pick up something. But when I’m going to a service, I don’t use the. I’m “going to church.”  Who can forget that song we learned as kids:  “This is the way we go to church, go to church, go to church . . . early Sunday morning.”

Why?  I go to THE store.  And to THE doctor.  And to THE hospital. And to THE school . . . unless I’m attending a class, then I’d say I’m “going to school.”

Ah.  So if I’m going to participate in the given activity, I can drop the article. I’m going to church. I’m going to school. I’m going to communion.  I’m going to dinner. I’m going to court.  (Heavens, I hope not.) I’m going into surgery (Okay, let’s forget that one. I can ponder only one mystery of language at a time.)

So now I understand. Maybe folks who don’t go to church don’t know that it’s a participatory experience. They understand going to the church, but not going to church. They’ve never participated with a group of believers who come together to honor and praise and pray and worship God.

So I get it.  I would never say, “I’m going swimming” if I planned to just sit on the shore and watch.

Maybe one day some of those folks who talk about going to the church will come along and jump in.



  1. Patti Goldbach

    I’ve never really thought about but I’m with you.

  2. Lisa Beauregard

    And then there are those of us that say when we get together we are going to “have church”!

  3. Ronnell Kay

    Wow, a great example of the power of “the”!
    I’m going to church with you.

  4. Kristin

    I teach Spanish and we talk about this because one of the units is about going places in town. In Spanish, they almost always use the article, but in English, we don’t. We also don’t use the article in front of school. “I’m going to school today.”

  5. Mocha with Linda

    That’s interesting. I totally agree with you and get that. Loved your explanation, and it makes total sense. And I say it both ways for different purposes: I go to the church during the week during office hours. I go to church on Sundays. 🙂

    The other thing that’s interesting to me is with stores. I got to “the store.” But when I use the name of the store, I drop “the” but a lot of people don’t. Around here, most of us say, “I’m going to Wal-Mart,” “I’m going to Target,” I’m going to HEB” (our regional grocery). But I’ve noticed a lot of people from other areas say “I’m going to the Wal-Mart.” That is so weird to me.

    As a word geek, I find it all so fascinating!


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