A Night at (the) Prom

The other day at work, I was almost done with my issue of People and I hadn’t even gone to lunch yet. My friend Holly had a copy of Seventeen that she had already finished.

(Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Let me say that ever since Atoosa Rubenstein took over, Seventeen has been AWESOME, even if you’re in your early-to-mid-20s!)

“Want to trade magazines?” I asked her.

“Sure,” she replied, handing over her copy. “It’s the prom issue.”

Ah, the prom issue.

I remember those from when I was younger. Each spring, Seventeen, Teen and all the other teen magazines had an issue entirely devoted to the prom, from dresses to makeup to prom stories. This issue was no exception, and every single page was devoted to the prom in some way. (I love the “real life stories” in the magazines, and this one featured My Girlfriend Died on Prom Night.)

Okay: it’s grammar time.

Throughout the magazine, they always said prom and not the prom.

I’m going to prom.
Prom is the best night of the year.
It’s only a week until prom.

Growing up, I always said the prom.

When I was a senior, I went to the prom alone and loved every minute of it.
The prom was at the Park Plaza in Boston.
We went to Caffe Pompeii in the North End after the prom.

To be completely honest, I never heard anyone omit the the until recently. I have the feeling it’s more prevalent with younger generations. I’ve heard younger people at Fairfield as well as young people on TV and in movies just say prom.

That sounds so strange to me! Maybe removing the word the makes it seem more important, like the most magical night of high school. To me, my junior prom was fun and my senior prom was a blast, but I would never consider either of them to be one of the best nights of my time in high school. The best nights of my high school career were spent with the drama club and especially the Brood.

I asked my 19-year-old sister whether she said prom or the prom. After all, she went to her own a year ago; surely, she would remember.

Sars: “I forget.”

Well, I guess it could be a geographical thing as well.

Now, it’s time for pictures:

This first one is the ugliest ad that I could ever imagine. It could not be worse. How did this make it past all the top marketing people? Do people actually find this attractive?


If I were going to the prom this year, this is what I would have worn:

The greatest picture from my own senior prom:

I’m in front. God, I wish I were still that skinny.

Tell me: when you went to yours, did you say “I went to prom” or “I went to the prom”? I’d really like to figure this out. If you could also tell me where you’re from and a general idea of when you went, that would be helpful. Any thoughts?

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24 responses to “A Night at (the) Prom

  1. I always said “the prom,” but what about those that say, “she’s in hospital”, as opposed to “in the hospital”?

  2. From my fading memory (as my senior prom was *cough* twenty years ago *cough, gasp*), we used “the prom” and “prom” almost interchangeably.

    I graduated from high school in Iowa in 1987.

  3. We said, “Prom is two weeks away. Do you have a date yet?”

    North Florida
    17 years ago

  4. Grammar Vandal please rent Pretty in Pink immediately.

  5. I have always used “the prom.” I’m not sure that it’s a geographical thing, either, because the girls at the high school almost directly adjacent to mine (theirs was all-female, ours all-male) used “prom.” It drove me insane…

    …but not as much as when they used “going to chapel” instead of “going to the chapel.” Not in the famous song, but in regular speech.

    I’ve calmed down about the “prom” usage over time, writing it off as more of a curiosity than something to correct. But “chapel” instead of “the chapel” will always make my blood pressure spike.

  6. My prom was 12 years ago (WOW, that wasn’t fun to type) in New Jersey. I am fairly sure that I said “the prom,” but that others used “prom” and “the prom” interchangeably.

  7. I would always say I’m going to the prom, it sounded weird not saying it without “the”. I went to my high school prom 6 years ago. Wow, has it been that long already?

  8. “I went to the prom with a boring guy, and realized that prom would have been more fun without a date.”
    I have always used “the prom” when referring to the night or the event. On the other hand, I just say “prom” when talking about the general concept.
    I graduated in 2002 in Northern California.

  9. Man, I would have expected to find “prom” to be more prevalent than “the prom” in the comments, but wow!

    During my high school career, and to this day, I feel as if I have never heard “the prom.” I have always (and will always) use “prom.” Just in the same way that people always said “formal,” not “the formal.” I graduated from high school in 2004 in Los Altos, CA (Northern California), but mi amigo Narges had a whole different experience! Weird.

    You know, this is actually very similar to a discussion to hear about often at UCLA: do you put “the” in front of highway/freeway numbers? Some people just say “101″ to refer to the 101 freeway in California (these people are usually from Northern California), while others say “the 101″ (and these people are often from Southern California). It is a very interesting dynamic, especially because some people seem very touchy about the use or omission of “the” in front of the numbers. Do other states or regions experience this divide?

  10. Correction to my Spanish above: “mi amigo” should be “mi amiga,” being that Narges is a chica and all. Sorry Nizzle.

  11. Great stuff, great stuff, great stuff!! Thanks for the comments. I find this very interesting!

    Sharon V, Pretty in Pink is one of the movies in my “People Yell At Me When They Find Out I Haven’t Seen It” category. Perhaps I’ll add it to my Netflix queue.

    dlipkin, up here in Massachusetts, we never use “the” in front of a numbered highway. If we take Route 90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, we say “I drove down 90″ or “I drove down the pike.”

    Narges, you are so right about the prom being better when you go dateless! I was so glad I decided to do that when I was a senior. My friend Beth did that, too. NOTHING held us back — we danced so much more than our friends who had dates!

  12. Hey, I went to the prom with the hottest guy at school, and though I don’t really remember the event (not due to alcohol, due to a bad memory) I do have unbelievable pictures – and that’s what’s important!

  13. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area (aka Silicon Valley) and did not go to “the prom”. But it definitely had the “the” in front of every reference to it. Maybe it’s like the difference between Northern and Southern Californians when refering to freeways. When driving to college I’d get on “101″ in San Jose going south, and get off “the 101″ just north of Los Angeles.

  14. I get the feeling that, on all the blogs I read, no one cares to read the other comments on the posts other than myself. Case in point: right above! :) Not to pick on anna, but it seems that people will make comments that make no mention of other comments on the same topic, as I notice not only in this case, but on two other Los Angeles Times blogs I read, indicating that they had only read the blog post and not the other comments. Anyone else ever notice that?

  15. Wow, I officially cannot read. I meant karen, not anna, in my last post. Where the hell did I get anna from?!

    P.S. Kate I am going on a four-month trek through Asia, starting at the end of September. My girlfriend and I have been planning it for a while now, so I’m excited to experience everything Asia has to offer (especially the food!).

  16. We were going to chapel because it was similar to going to class – you wouldn’t say “I’m going to the chorus” or “I’m going to the glee club”. Going to chapel indicated that there was a service going on – not unlike the phrase “Going to church”. If I had used “going to the chapel” that would have meant that I was going to the chapel for some other reason.

    Still, I don’t think I ever said “Going to prom”.

    Delaware Valley, PA – 5 years ago

    I am down the shore and refuse to grammar-check this post. :)

  17. Hmmm….I’m not finding any continuity here. I guess it just varies.

    dlipkin, I am unbelievably jealous! I hope I can follow in your footsteps once I start getting enough copy editing work to freelance full-time — then I can live all over the world….

    And yes, Alexa did go to the prom with the hottest guy in the school. You should see the pictures.

  18. Oh good I thought it was just me. I never heard of just “prom” until I heard it used in a cartoon 3 years ago. Sounds weird.

  19. Dennis Fischman

    Andy, “in hospital” is a British usage. You’ll find it in any number of wonderful British murder mysteries.

  20. It’s just prom, no the. It’s the shortened version of promenade which is a verb and you can’t place a the in front of a verb.

  21. The proper terminology is to simply say “I’m going to prom” no “the,” because prom is short for promenade, which is a verb.

    The first time I had heard it was when Mena Suvari’s character in American Pie said that she was “asking Oz to prom.” It was the first time I’d heard it said like that so I looked into it, and found that the proper way was sans “the.”

    I just think that it’s been Americanized so that commonly it’s referred to as “the prom” but it’s not the way it used to be.

  22. It was always THE prom.

    I echo Andy — I don’t get people leaving the the off of hospital. Talk about weird sounding.

  23. We always said “the prom.” I grew up in North Georgia, and my proms were 1973 and 1974. I teach high school now, and the kids say “the prom” in my area (still North Georgia, but further east).

  24. All of…one year ago, everyone said prom. I’m from Northeast Ohio.

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