The Grammarphobia Blog

The promised land

Q: A friend and I were discussing the use of the word “prom” without an article, as in “We’ll see you at prom,” rather than “We’ll see you at the prom.” We wondered if this might be a regionalism, since we both grew up in the Northeast and never heard it there. Thanks for any light you can shed on this.

A: In my day, the big dance at high school or college was “the prom,” but it appears that times have changed and many young people have dropped the definite article somewhere on the gym floor.

The first published reference for “prom” (short for “promenade”) in the Oxford English Dictionary comes from an 1879 article in the Yale Courant, which referred to “the Junior Prom. Com.” (the Junior Promenade Committee, I presume).

The article “the” is present in all of the OED‘s subsequent “prom” citations through 1991, when a film script has the line, “There’s no way you are going to the prom.” But a 2001 entry reads: “I needed a date for senior prom.” No article!

My diligent research took me to a website that ought to know, promspot, where I found quotations like this one: “There’s a wonderful sense of calm when an established couple decides to go to prom together.” And this: “After prom, the couple headed to a school-sponsored after-party.”

Nevertheless, I find that the article “the” is still boogying, even if it doesn’t get asked to the dance as often as it did in my prom days. I googled “to the prom” and got 423,000 hits while “to prom” got 478,000.

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