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I'm reading a book and encountering the phrase "insert name is king" a lot. I'm wondering, what's the difference between them? When and why should I use "He is king" instead of "He is a king"?

Examples:

  • Tommen is king now

  • Yet if neither one is king, still, how could it be Lord Renly?

  • And he is a king, and you’re just a spy

  • Everyone else is a king or prince these days

Same with other words:

  • They elected him president.

  • They called him a thief.

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    What about He is the king? – Araucaria Mar 30 '17 at 19:10
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"Ethelred is king" means that he is a specific king, presumably the king of our own country or of the country that we have just been talking about. "Ethelred is a king" means that he is one of many kings. As there is normally only one king per country, this would normally mean he is a king of some unspecified country, maybe our country or maybe some other country.

I think saying "Ethelred is king" is essentially equivalent to saying "Ethelred is the king", the specific king, the only one. (The only one relevant to the present context, that is.)

This usage is consistent across job titles. You can say, "May is Prime Minister" or "John is chairman-of-the-board" or "Sally is shift manager".

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"He is King."

He is our King or the king of this specific country in this time.

"He is a king"

He's a king. One of many kings of a region. There were many kings in early Britain. He was a king of Mercia. It can also mean there have been many kings in Mercia and he was one of them.

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"he is king" ==> there is only one king and he is it.

"he is a king" ==> there may be one or more kings, but he is one of them.

  • 1
    I don't think your first one is explained very well; this is very much context-dependent. Grammatically, I can say, "Harald is king," even though there are other reigning monarchs in the world. – J.R. Mar 30 '17 at 19:45

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