This refers to the controversy regarding prefixing freeway names with the definite article 'the,' as in "the 101." Some would say it's not actually a controversy.

What does the rest of America say anyway? —KrisFricke

Specifically regarding numbers (i.e., not named, a la "the Robert Smith Highway", or generic "the turnpike"), the following states and regions are confirmed by locals to not use "the" in front of numbered or "I-number" highways:

  • Alabama
  • District of Columbia
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Jersey — "I've heard that on TV, and I wondered who the hell says that"
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Virginia
  • Virgin Islands
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin


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  • In Idaho it's called "The Interstate." (Yeah, there are only, like, two freeways in the entire state.) — ct
  • SoCal- "the 5." NorCal- "5." Oregonian (actually from about Redding, CA on up) - "I-5."
    • Being from SoCal I would like to correct this, the five is also called the Santa Ana, or Los Angeles freeway (depending on direction) for other highways the names differ ergo the I-55 is the newport beach freeway, 22 is garden grove, etc.
      • I'm also from SoCal (specifically San Diego, although I also lived in the Los Angeles area for a about a year), and I've never heard the 5 referred to as the 'city name' freeway. I always heard it as "the 5" or "5 north" or whatever direction. —Michellaneous
  • One thing I think is specific to Northern California is a compulsion to be mean to Southern Californians for unexplained reasons. Thus norcal folks love to rag on socal folks for saying "the" in front of highways. When I lived in Oregon and Indiana, I never got any crap for it. Of course, in Oregon they just tend to say "the Freeway" (for I-5) and in Indiana they say "the Tollway" (for I-80). — jr

I think it has something to do with where all the water goes, i.e. south. like a giant leach...-PxlAted

  • NorCal says "hella", and SoCal says "the 5", and they piss each other off to no end —KenBloom
  • In Philadelphia, we have I-76, frequently called "The Schuylkill Expressway" (Try to pronounce that one, I dare ya .... see my profile for the proper pronunciation), since it follows the schuylkill river in Philadelphia ... we also have I-476, which we call "the Blue Route" because it was projected for construction in the '60s, placed on the map as a dotted blue line, and construction didn't finish until the late '90s, so for about 30 years it was a blue line on the map that didn't exist ... and it's now called "the Blue Route" ... but when referring to numbered routes without names that are major highways, we usually use either "I-name" or "name", such as "I-95" or "95" ... -FredBarrett
  • Florida calls "Interstate 95" simply "95", sometimes "I-95". The idea of "The I-95" sounds simply wrong. The Florida Turnpike is "the Turnpike". And "Hella" is used fairly often. Oh, and the big odd thing is that people in CA say "Let's meet at coffee" or "Go to coffee" or something like that, as if "coffee" was a place. Strange... about the only thing that sounded "foreign" when I moved here. — JabberWokky
  • The song "Five State Drive" by Less Than Jake starts out: "Got on the 47, transferred to the 89 / left town eastbound past all the city signs..." They're from Gainesville, Florida. I know nothign else about Florida, but perhaps other states (urbanized regions?) have the same controversy. — EricTalevich
    • Bad example. Vinnie Fiorello (lyricist for LTJ) and lead singer Chris Demakes aren't from Florida, they went to Gainsville to attend college (Gainsville is a rural college town in Northern Florida). It's like citing someone from LA attending Davis. — JabberWokky
  • "Go to coffee????"I can safely say I have never heard this before in my entire life. Are you sure it isn't just one group of people that said that? - GeorgeLewis
    • Right, nobody says that without "let's" in front. Maybe he meant that though. People don't say coffee as though it were a place, though. They say it in lieu of a word like "lunch." This is because coffee is kind of taking on a meal-like significance, most likely, but I think this comes from New York, not from California. So all the weird lunchisms are being transformed into coffeeisms: Let's do coffee. Let's go to coffee. In California, however, I think people typically say "Let's go for coffee" (not to).
      • I've heard it from several people in different groups — and yes, I omitted the "Let's" as being implied. "Let's go to coffee" sounds odd to my ears and stands out so I note it pretty much every time it is said around me. It may be coming in from New York, but the first time I ever heard it was from various people after I moved to California. It's not in use anywhere in the South (at least as of 2001). — JabberWokky

My parents grew up in the Los Angeles Area, and they say the reason for the prefix, is that the numbers didn't always exist. For example: The Pomona Freeway aka 60. The Golden State / San Diego aka 5. Adding a the made it flow better, considering the amount of freeways in the area. If you just spouted 13 numbers in a row without some sort of identifier, you'd be thought of as loony. Just my 2 cents. — TarZxf

  • Point of fact, we still use the names most of the time. — ChrisTakemura

I wholeheartedly agree with this. Consider (directions to get from Santa Barbara to San Dimas): (SoCal style) Take the 101 to the 134 to the 210. (NorCal style) Take 101 to 134 to 210. Not nearly as easy to listen to. —EricKlein

  • The second sounds much more correct and "easier" to listen to to my ears. But then, that's exactly what this is about - to some ears, the THE sounds wrong... to others, it sounds right. — JabberWokky

In English we don't use articles in front of proper nouns/place names. You can't go to the Davis or eat at the McDonald's or live on the A street (the only exception being that these phrases can be used for emphasis). — AndreyGoder

  • That's a load of crap. The Themes. The Mississippi. The Cascades. The Sierras. The 215. So, umm. Yeah. Maybe a 'river transporation terminology' adaptation to highways. —jr
    • Right, we only use it when there is only ONE of the object in question. Since often there are several highways with the same number in different parts of the country (or world), it does not make sense to use "the". —AndreyGoder
    • No, "The" is often used in front of conduits of navigation/transit,etc. It has nothing to do with the multiplicity. And in most other parts of the state/country/world business routes of certain highways have alternative names. Northern California seems to be pretty unique in terms of there being multiple highways with the same name. This could have to do with there being few highways early on (so people didn't need to refer to many in one sentence, for example), and many were developed as afterthoughts. Take what Mr. Klein said above: "(SoCal style) Take the 101 to the 134 to the 210. (NorCal style) Take 101 to 134 to 210. Not nearly as easy to listen to." I'm perfectly content to hear northern california refer to highways in their own way—and it works out here. But I don't understand why they're so eager to beat up on SoCal people. -jr

Maybe SoCal likes it because it makes the freeway sound more "important". It's not just 405, it's THE 405. Sounds slightly more infamous. —jd

In my experience, NoCalians tend to start using the "the" after a relatively short period of exposure, while SoCalians, by and large, will tend to say "the" for the rest of their lives. — ct

I thought I'd throw in my two cents because I was having a conversation about this at work today. This seems like a logical explanation to me: The people that say "the," if everything implied in their sentence was expressed, would say: "Take the 80 freeway" where as the people who leave out the "the" would say: "take Interstate 80." It's simply a matter of which part of the sentence is dropped. maybe?? -KristenBirdsall

  • That sounds like a good explanation to me. - KenjiYamada

Hey! Could this be applied to Unitrans bus lines? For example, is it "B-line" or "the B-line"? See this page, where they've also added a "the" to the beginning of the apartment name. In the photo, the "the" clearly doesn't exist. And... does it even matter? And if you're from SoCal? Does that mean you'll say "the B-line" instead of "B-line"? Heehee, this is fun. - JenKao

  • I think there are other signs which do say "The Drake". I think that is just a problem of inconsistant signage and change of owners. I still think that the usage of "the" is analogous to riverways. The Mississippi, the Sacramento, the Snake, the Rogue, the Colorado. Another thought is that in SoCal, a lot more freeways are Interstates. You say "The Interstate." In NorCal a lot more highways are state routes. You don't say "The Route". Maybe that has something to do with it. When the original auto clubs were putting up road markers, they identified highways by their ultimate destination (yup, .. wasn't the gov't.. it was AAA, essentially). And so because we have the Santa Monica Freeway, the Riverside Freeway, the Ventura Freeway... it makes sense that "the" is really beaten into you. - jr
    • And also when someone says "Take 80," it's like— take 80 what? take 80 jelly beans? - jr
      • "Take the 80," it's like— take the 80 what? take the 80 jelly beans? Oh yeah.. that made it soooo much more clear. In a statement like: "Take [the] 80 to Location. I think its the to Location part that makes it clear you're referring to a roadway, not the presence or lack of the the. - JevanGray
        • No. When you say "take eighty," there is an implied object (from some prior sentence?) that the adjective describes. ("I'm not sure how many asperin to take." "Take eighty.") Eighty is only clearly a noun in that useage when it is preceded by an article such as "the." -jr
          • Of course just because its clearly a noun when preceded by an article doesn't mean it can't be a noun without it, the fact that many people do say things like "Take 80", where 80 is a noun is a perfect example. But even when the THE marks the 80 as a noun, it still doesn't necessarily mark it as being a roadway. Context does matter a lot. I have heard people say things such as: "In the drawer you will find a bag of 200 jellybeans and a bag of 80. Take the 80 (jellybeans) [for yourself]". Also, I don't typically hear people say just "Take 80" or "Take the 80" alone, since either way it still doesn't actually tell you which way to go. Its usually either a response to a preceding question (like "How do I get to Reno") or something like "Take 80 West", "Take 80 towards Oakland", "Take 80 to 5", etc. I still think the reference to a location/direction is the primary indicator. Personally I usually prefix the number with interstate (or I-) or highway, probably a habit developed from being in Sacramento where I had the need to differentiate between I-80 and Biz-80. -JevanGray
        • No. Using "the" 80, clarifies that it is a noun and not an adjective. Your suggestion only works in theory, but not in common usage. ("Which car should I take, the red or the green?" "Take the green." No, someone would more likely say "Take the green one.") Adjectives don't do well in the position of inferred objects. Rather your usage of 80 standing alone is a weird abberation the occurs in a place where highways developed in isolation and lately. Moreover it is not something I have trouble understanding nor do I disagree with. It works for this place, since there are few highways, and there is an unusual amount of "business routes" that have no alternative names (whereas they do in the south). However, the original point is that the usage "the 80" is more original navigational routing, and northern californians will meanheartedly pick on Southern Californians for their usage. Q.E.D. -jr
        • While someone might be more likely to say "Take the green one" it still doesn't mean the other response isn't used and you can ignore its existence. I admit you'd typically hear "Take the green" more in casual speech rather than a formally written text. *Shrug*... people are often disappointed when they apply prescriptive grammar to casual/spoken language. And perhaps there are more freeways down south, but there are more than just a few up here so I'm not sure if roadway count has much to do with the difference. Just off the top of my head, ignoring any "business route" variations, I pretty commonly use Interstates 80, 280, 380, 580, 680, 780, 880, 5, 505 and Highways 1, 50, 99, 17, 49, 37, 101, 113, 121, 128, 12. Everyone has their own experiences. But for the record, I've never given anyone a hard time for using THE. Either way sounds quite fine to me... and the only people I've ever had bring up the usage as being an issue have been SoCal peeps. Obviously you've had a different experience about the matter. But what exactly are you saying "No" to anyways? The fact that people do use statements such as "Take 80" where 80 is a noun and that even saying "Take the 80" doesn't definitely show that 80 is a roadway implies that it is the context that is the true identifier. So I'd even venture to say that your suggestion only works in theory, but not always in actual usage. ■ -JevanGray
        • NOBODY makes fun of people for FAILING to say "the." (Even if it does sound strange to most of California.) However there is a huge contengent of NorCal people who irrationally pick on SoCal people for saying them. The common contention is that their way (without "the") is exclusively correct and that it's another instance of SoCal people being wrong [which probably somehow ties to stealing water—there's some page on that too.] And while I suppose it is conceivably possible to construct a complicated route using multiple highways in Northern California, it's not a daily event for most people. It is in southern california, and that is probably why the "the" usage persists, even though it sounds a bit archaic. But archaic as it is, it has long roots, and I think is no reason for NorCal people to dig into socal people for it. So if you're finding SoCal people defensive about it, it's likely not because of you, but because everyone else has been giving them shit. And my "No." was referring to my strong disagreement with your suggestion that 'the' didn't clarify what "80" referred to. My personal perspective is this: What's the big deal? It's not wrong (either gramatically, historically—and it's useful for clarification), so it should not be the basis for any sort of attack. -jr
  • I definitely refer to being on "the D-Line," and as a freshman took the B-line and C-line. Do norcallers really refer to bus lines without the THE? (I'm from so-cal obviously) -KrisFricke
    • The rest of the country doesn't use the THE. Which does not imply that the THE is wrong... merely that it is a regionalism. — JabberWokky
      • Clearly, not using THE in when referring to freeways is wrong. Note that I'm from SoCal. But really, we have so few regionalisms that we pick up on the ones that we do have. It's nice to see that we have a controversy about this, as it means everything isn't homogenous. Yet. So celebrate our cultural differences, and be happy that people as backwards as those who say "Take 80" are still allowed to thrive in their native homeland. — BrentLaabs

Holy crap, is this really such a big deal? I know I've used both without thinking about it, even for the same freeways. But controversy? It's an article, guys. — MikeIvanov

  • I really don't think it's actually a "Nor Cal/So Cal" issue. That people keep saying it is, is where the controversy lies for me. This page will never be complete without a well-researched survey. — TravisGrathwell
  • I don't think it is either. I've heard it elsewhere. I heard it this weekend in Louisana. But I don't know if it is a settleable issue. I don't think there IS a wrong way, but a curious regionalism. But there are people who visciously attack people who use "the," and apparently they do think there IS a wrong way. -jr

Listen to the trafic reports in LA and in the Bay Area. It's just simple. It's "The 5" and "The 405" in LA, and "80" and "101" in the Bay Area. The reason for this is simple. Freeways originated in Los Angeles with the Arroyo Seco Parkway. Before the freeways even had numbers, they had names. In LA, it is still common to refer to freeways by their name: the Ventura Freeway (which is independent of its number, is at some times the 101 at others the 134), the Hollywood Freeway (sometimes the 101, sometimes the 170). The traffic reports, especially Metro Traffic Control pretty much exclusively refer to the name, since the name represents a contiguous piece of road, even when the number change, and therefore, in most cases is a better indicator of how the traffic will flow.

In many other places out west, this isn't the case. (Chicago uses expressway names, New Jersey does call I-80 "I-80" but it's the "Turnpike" not "I-95".) First of all, no where on earth has the complex freeway structure that Los Angeles does. Most other large cities have European style rings. Almost all midwestern and southern cities work this way (including, e.g., Chicago, Houston, Atlanta, etc.) Los Angeles, on the other hand, has a grid. Secondly, almost no where else has grown up the way LA has around the freeway. True, new Norcal exurbs are developping along these lines as well, but the long history isn't there yet.

As for it being used as a wedge to distinguish northerners from southerners, denying that is silly. As silly as denying that ridicule isn't aimed at Southerners in places like Davis. Socal is too self-absorbed of a place to even acknowledge the separate existence of the rest of the world, and so they're mostly apathetic about the differences between North and South. You might get shit about the Giants, but that's probably it.

Plus, the only real difference anymore between North and South is the central cities themselves. I can tell when I'm in San Francisco and when I'm in LA. But I can't tell the difference when I'm in Costa Mesa or San Mateo, Walnut Creek or Irvine, Vacaville or Redlands. California just has a case of genericitis, north and south. -JonerikStorm-

Wow there's a lot of comments. I grew up near DC, and been around a lot. Most of the east I've been in does not use the "the". DC, Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New Jersey, the Carolinas, New York, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania to my knowledge/memory don't use it. You drive on 280 or 380, not on the 280 or drive 15 miles on the 380. There is a "the" for names like someone mentioned like 'drive down the turnpike'. I never heard of "the (highway number)" until I moved out to the Bay Area. I guess I've heard it visiting LA and San Diego before without registering it. I didn't even know about it until the dorms of Davis. Started hearing arguements and a "Norcal vs Socal" thing over it. -ES

Before reading this wiki, I'd only heard of the THE through others who visited L.A. and remarked on it. I've yet to move to California, but I've noticed a lot of commenters here using the term "freeway". This is not unheard of, but it's certainly not common in Kentucky (where I grew up) or Louisiana (where I live now). Of course, when I moved from Kentucky to Louisiana, I got a lot of strange looks for calling interstates "highways". — CherylChooljian

This is a HEFTY page, but I've had my share of debates on the SoCal / Nor*Cal subjects, mainly because being from Fresno kinda puts us in a position of being thirsty for an identity besides Cen*Cal or (as i have been told) Bastard*Cal. See, in Fresno, we have Vons (So*Cal, versus Nor*Cal's Safeway), and we say "the 99" or "the 80." (So*Cal, but I have never heard of "take 80 east..." or whatever.) But, for sure we say Hella (hella Nor*Cal), AND we say hecka (including my DAD), and have even resorted to what i call "doubling up" (which is ridiculous, but i still do it!) Example:

Bob: "Hey, I heard that Brooke was hella sleeping with Mr. Bradley" Ann: "NO WAY, like hella hella?!?!?" Bob: "hella!"

Yeah, and this kind of conversation is TYPICAL. I remember one time i ACTUALLY said "hecka hecka." Its bad...but what else do you expect from Fresno? Nevertheless, I didnt notice the little social battle going on between the Cals until i got to Davis, in where I was frequently yelled at for my abundant use of hella in conversation. Funny how the people whow always made it a big deal were from San Diego...but I love San Diego, so no hate from me.

I love California.

In Southeastern PA we generally call them "route" whatever. Pronounced like "root" and not "rout." So you take Rt. 30 East to Rt. 113, turn left until you reach Rt. 100, left for a mile until you reach the Turnpike. Some are called by name, like the Turnpike (76 and 276), the Schulkyl Expressway (76) (not-so-effectionately known as the "Surekill Crawlway") and the Blue Route (476). The 309 Expressway is usually just called "309." I sometimes called it a "freeway" but I spent 8 years in SoCal. :) Interstates are generally called by "I" and their number, like I95, where more local routes would be "Rt."

But I've never heard anybody call it "the" route number without a trailing modifier (e.g. "the 30 expressway") while I've lived there.

And no, it's not a big deal, but it's an interesting cultural phenomenon. Must we talk only of critical issues?


You know what, keep up all this Nor-Cal So-Cal rivalry and some rapper's probably going to get shot soon. —Domenic "the 5" Santangelo

Growing up we'd either say 80 or I-80, as 80's our main freeway out of The Ville. "Take 80 to Vallejo" or "Go down i-80 to Sac" and recently I've begun calling smaller numbered freeways "the #" like the 5. Hooray! —Michelle "I Didn't Hit Preview" Accurso

It is interesting to note that Southern California is possibly not the only place where "the" creeps into usage with roadway numbers. In the U.K., as I've discovered both through travel there and through listening to BBC Radio (with its occasional traffic reports), the British very often use "the" with the names of their motorways (A1, M25, etc.), i.e. "the A1" or "the M25". Now, I can't try and explain possible British rationales for this usage (after all, they do drive on the left side of the road), but it's possible that they, like Southern Californians, view their highway system as more a fully-integrated network than a "point A to point B" collection of roads. When New Yorkers give subway directions, for example, they almost always say things like "Get on the 1 at 86th Street", or "Take the Q to Canal Street"; you wouldn't hear someone say "Transfer to N at Times Square." Why? Since the subway system is a complicated network of many train lines, you presumably have to be very specific in how you identify one line from another — using the article "the", it seems, reinforces the specificity. So you'd be much more likely to hear "Transfer to the N at Times Square," or perhaps, "Transfer to the N train at Times Square". The word "train", like "freeway" in Southern California, may or may not be included, but is certainly implied when it isn't. Freeways are something like the Southern California equivalent of a subway system (the Metro Red Line in L.A. notwithstanding), and for better or worse we speak about our freeways as we might a massive public transportation network.

In San Diego, where I'm from, I've discovered a weird disparity between "official freeway speak" and the everyday directions used by 99% of San Diegans. The Union-Tribune, for instance, will never refer to "the 8 freeway" or "the 125"; the paper insists on referring to "Interstate 8" and "State Route 125". Local television commercials also seem indecisive, with many voice-overs referring to "I-5" or "Highway 163". One ad for a furniture store gives its location as "two miles east of 805" — a apparent classic NorCalism. These usages are notable becuase, as a lifelong San Diegan, I've rarely if ever heard locals say anything other than "the 15", "the 5", "the 78", etc. It makes me wonder why the terminology of local media outlets doesn't conform to that used by their readers and viewers. Then again, local radio traffic reports unfailingly use the SoCal "the". One more item of note: in San Diego, freeway signs use the word "Junction" or "Jct", which, from what I've seen driving through the Bay Area, makes our signage much more like that found in Northern California than in the rest of Southern California.

... I just refer to highways as 113, or 80, or 5. Or I-5. —StevenDaubert

I wonder if any Linguistic Majors have commented on this controversy seeing that it involves the issue of Northern and Southern California English dialects.

2008-06-13 12:56:23   On the east coast, Interstates (such as I-80) are referred to as Interstates. State highways are often referred to as "route" or "state route", or just by the number "50" or by the name that the local portion of that road comprises (Important location blvd). Sometimes, the "the" is dropped. For example, one might refer to "495" or "495 north". Some highways (such as the DC beltway) have additional names. For example, I-495 around DC is referred to as the "outer loop" of the beltway. I-95 is referred to as the "inner loop". Or is it the other way around? It's hard to tell sometimes, as they are loops... —IDoNotExist

2008-06-14 04:07:01   o hai, Linguistics major here.

This isn't a controversy per se, this is just an example of a regional dialect difference. No one calls the "soda" "pop" and "tonic" regional dialect differences controversial. Some people have kindly given a long history of California freeway names, which would explain the origin of putting a determiner versus not. I mean, even the word for "median" is different everywhere (center divider, parkway, etc)

You can check out DARE (Dictionary of American Regional English) here for more funny things people in other areas say :D

  • I believe you have stepped in it. This being dubbed a controversy is a domain specific term for the aesthetic pleasure of the participants. In other words: we all know. It's funny. Laugh.