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English Grammar: “At Home” vs. “Home”

The English language is full of small quirks and exceptions. In a recent post, I looked at some interesting exceptions related to nouns of location and article “the.”

In this post, we’re going to look at another noun-of-location that is a special exception to the usual grammar rules of English. This special exception labels a special place… a place we call home.

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Photo by theodysseyonline

To start thinking about the unusual grammar of the word home, read the two sentences below. See if you can find the difference between them:

  • Angelina is at home.
  • Angelina is home.

In these two sentences, the predicates “is at home” and “is home” both have the same basic meaning: they tell the reader that Angelina (the subject of the sentence) is in her home.

There is one small distinction though. “At home” emphasizes Angelina’s location. In sentences using the word “home,” sometimes this kind of emphasis is optional, and doesn’t change the meaning very much. However, if Angelina’s location of “home” is being contrasted with another location, emphasis that she is home and not somewhere else is needed.

For example, suppose you know that Angelina is in her house, and someone asks you the question “Is Angelina at the store?” The correct response would be “No, Angelina is at home.” In this way, you would contrast the location of “home” with the location of “store” suggested in the question. A simpler response of “No, Angelina’s home” would sound a little bit “off,” even though it doesn’t break any grammar rules.

By now you may have noticed another unusual thing about “home” compared to other nouns of location. You can say “Angelina is home” or “Angelina is at home,” but you can’t say “Angelina is store.” You must say “Angeline is at the store.”

As I showed you in an earlier post, “home” is on a short list of nouns of location that doesn’t require “the” before it. So that’s why “store” needs “the.” But store is also different from home, because store absolutely needs “at,” while “home” can do with or without “at.” This is true for lots of other nouns too. You must say someone is at school, at the theater, and at work. You can’t say “he is school,” “they are theater,” or “my dad is work.” This is a completely ungrammatical way to describe someone’s location. So why can you describe a person’s location in their home without at?

What you’ve just noticed is one of the oddities of the English language. Most nouns of location (school, work, London, parking lot, etc…) can be used ONLY as nouns. However, “home” is a special exception to that rule.

The word “home” can be a noun of location, or it can be an adjective describing a state of being—the state of being in one’s home. The special nature of “home” can be a little confusing sometimes. Below I’ll give you some examples of home-as-adjective and home-as-noun.

Example 1:  She spent a week in Los Angeles, but now she’s home in New York City.

(“Home” as an adjective to describe her state of being in a place where she lives; in this case the place where she lives is NYC.)

Example 2:  Her home is in New York City.

(“Home” as a noun, labeling the house or apartment she has in in New York City.)

Example 3: I thought he was home, but he’s away at work.

(“Home” as an adjective describing the man’s state of being in the place where he lives; “away” serves as an adjective that’s opposite of home.)

Example 4: No, he’s not at work; did you actually knock on the door of his home?

(“Home” as a noun to label the specific place where the man lives.)

Example 5: Soldiers who are sent abroad can go home a few times a year to visit their families.

(“Home” as an adjective to describe the soldiers’ state of being home. In this case, the adjective “home” can be preceded by the verb “go,” because the soldier must move from one place to another to be home.)

Example 6: When they come back from their overseas assignments, soldiers go to their homes to be with friends and family.

(Here, “homes” is a plural noun that labels the different places that various soldiers live when they are not overseas.)

Like so many words in the human language, “home” is a little word that can create big confusion. Study this post carefully, and you’ll be able to resolve your doubts about this truly special word.

 

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One Response to English Grammar: “At Home” vs. “Home”

  1. Terence Clark February 4, 2016 at 7:51 am #

    There’s a current related trend in American English, in particular, but to a lesser degree across the broad Anglophone spectrum. It’s becoming a common shorthand to instead of saying “that’s my house” or “that’s my stop” or “that’s my car” to instead say “that’s me”. It’s similarly odd in that it’s essentially a stative verb phrase, but the location taking the ‘me’ state is with few exceptions not in the same location as the ‘me’ in question. This construct has been called out even by native English speakers as sometimes confusing.

    An additional complication with place is regional dialects, which impact the ‘the’ question as well. In American English we say “she’s in the hospital” whereas in much of the UK, India, Australia, etc they would say “she’s in hospital”.

    As a side note, one of my favorite definite/indefinite article conflicts is ailments. In the northern US we say someone “has cancer” whereas in much of the southeast US someone “has the cancer”. And ailments are a pretty much iniversally irregular and variant across dialects. In northern dialects you “catch a cold”, “have the flu”, but “have cancer”. Sometimes there’s some flexibility there. You can “have a flu”, for instance, though it’s somewhat clumsy. But you can’t “have the cold” unless it’s a specific strain of cold going around. And you definitely can’t “have cold” or “have flu”.


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