“Go Home” – Why Do We Drop Prepositions and Articles in Certain English Expressions?

One of our subscribers recently wrote in to ask us for help. Her students had asked her why we say go home and not go to home, and she wasn’t sure what to tell them. Various students of mine have also asked me this question over the years. What should we tell our students for cases like this?

Go + to + article + noun

The typical pattern with the verb go includes the preposition of direction (to), an article, and noun. We don’t use an article for proper nouns.

  • go to the store
  • go to a movie
  • go to my house
  • go to Paris

Go + noun

In the expression go home, the preposition and article are omitted. Go home is a verb + adverb pattern. In this expression, home functions as an adverb that gives the location or direction of a verb. It might seem strange to students to consider home as an adverb since it usually acts as a common noun, but point out that most dictionaries include an adverb entry for home, and remind them of similar, more common adverbs with go, such as go here, go there, go anywhere, and go everywhere.

Home can act as an adverb with certain verbs, such as go, stay, drive, fly, return, arrive, come, leave, and move + home. But remind students that home can’t be an adverb with every verb; for example, we can’t say paint home, buy home, sell home, decorate home, etc.

We can also think of go home as a reduced way of saying go to my home, and it’s by far the more accepted expression. Consider go to my house, which is not as common, and therefore we can’t drop the preposition or article (in this case, the possessive adjective my). Note that house would also never function as an adverb.

Luckily for students, the list of reduced phrases with go + adverb is fairly short. Here are the Fab Four (to borrow the Beatles’ moniker) that your students should memorize:

  • go home
  • go downtown
  • go here
  • go there

Does this happen with any other English expressions?

Yes, it does! Other verbs, such as staydrive, fly, return, arrive, come, leave, and move can follow this pattern. For practice with stay home in context, try our Staycations lesson.

  • stay home
  • stay downtown
  • stay here
  • stay there

For another common reduction example that doesn’t involve an adverb, think about watch TV. It’s so common that, over time, we’ve dropped the article the. Radio, on the other hand, isn’t as common, so we must keep the preposition and article.

  • watch TV
  • listen to the radio

Reductions like this also happen a lot with of. Consider the following expressions:

  • all my friends (all of my friends)
  • look out the window (look out of the window)

Can you think of any other cases of reductions in English? I invite everyone to add to the list. Please leave a comment below if you can think of another instance where the preposition and/or article get dropped.

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6 comments

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  1. patricia.adams@globetrotter.net'

    patricia adams says:

    May 03, 2016 at 8:50 am

    where can I find exercises etc to share this ( go home etc) with my students ?

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      May 04, 2016 at 5:21 pm

      Hi Patricia,

      We don’t have an exercise specifically on “go,” but we have three lessons on prepositions in our Grammar Practice Worksheets section: Prepositions, Prepositions of Place, and Prepositions of Time.

      Reply

  2. nvliem04@gmail.com'

    LN says:

    Jul 07, 2015 at 9:55 am

    Dear Tanya,
    I am home.
    “Home” cannot be an adverb in this sentence after “linking verb”.
    Therefore, it is a noun and we drop ” at my” as in:
    I am at my home. ( at my home = preposition phrase functions as an adjective)
    But how can we explain adverbs “here, there, downstairs, downtown..” after linking verb “Be”?
    I am here.
    I am upstairs. ( used like = I go upstairs)
    Please give me your explanation.
    Thanks,

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Jul 15, 2015 at 4:48 pm

      Place words such as home, here, there, downstairs, etc. can be quite confusing—when are they nouns, and when are they adverbs? For example, Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary gives the example “People back home would never believe how much he has changed” as a noun, and “It’s great to be back home” as an adverb (after a linking verb). The noun example refers to the place where he’s from, and the adverb example refers to having arrived at your house. Oxford Dictionary gives the example “My mom was home for the first time in weeks” as an adverb. In fact, “I am home” is an adverb if you’ve just arrived home, but a noun if you’re talking about being in the place you love.

      I think the best thing to tell our students is that place words such as home, downtown, downstairs, here, and there function as adverbs when there’s the implication of direction or arrival/movement. This tip isn’t always clear-cut, but it might help. Also, remind students that all these words, except “home,” are much more common as adverbs than nouns. “Adverb” tends to be a catchall category in English, so we often find examples that don’t fit the normal rules. Finally, I think teaching students to recognize that such words go together (“I went home / I went there / I am home / I am there / etc.”) is more important than teaching them when those words are adverbs or nouns.

      Reply

  3. Tara Benwell says:

    Apr 16, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks for your post, Tanya. The word “go” has so many uses in English, it’s no wonder this word is confusing.

    I often say to my kids, “Go play!” or “Go eat!” I “go crazy” when all we do is “go, go, go.” We “go, here, there, and everywhere.” We “go shopping,” we “go to soccer,” and then we finally “go home.” On the way home my son often tells me, “Hurry, Mom. I really gotta go!”

    Ps. Go Canucks!

    Reply

    • Tanya Trusler says:

      Apr 16, 2015 at 9:22 pm

      Great examples, Tara! Thanks for the chuckle! :)

      Go Canucks go!
      (And now I’m questioning the comma usage…Go, Canucks, go? Go Canucks, go? Another blog post in the works…)

      Reply

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