I'm not a native English speaker. From time to time I see the following structure when referring to a person:

... a(n) [adjective] [person's name] ...


"Meanwhile, an increasingly sadistic Henry begins focusing his attention..."

/ Wikipedia: It (novel) /

I'm pretty sure that the following is correct as well:

"Meanwhile, the increasingly sadistic Henry begins focusing his attention..."

What's the difference between these?

  • 1
    link Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 18:06
  • So by that (meaning 9) you are suggesting that the writer of the wikipedia article inteded to emphasize that he didn't know the fictional character of the novel?
    – icguy
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 18:26
  • I'm sorry but I'm not an English teacher or a native English speaker. Use your mind. :-) Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 18:26
  • Okay, but thanks for the info anyway!
    – icguy
    Commented Mar 31, 2017 at 18:32

2 Answers 2


Proper nouns normally go with out articles. But when the named one is unknown to the speaker we use indefinite article before it. Moreover when a special characteristic of the named person strikes us most we use article​ before proper nouns.

  • He is the Shakespeare of our locality.

  • He is a Shakespeare of our locality.

We are speaking about the poetic qualities of one in both the examples with the difference that in the first you'll come across only one as such while in the second there are many.

  • An increasingly sadistic Henry

  • The increasingly sadistic Henry

In the above examples our eyes were inverted for the soul searching of Henry; a Henry who is sadistic who derives hellish pleasure out of others' sufferings, and this quality gets the upper hand over his other qualities a man is an odd assortment of. Hence indefinite 'a'/'an'.

In the second you have already pinpointed on the sadistic nature of Henry to the exclusion of all other qualities in him and like to dwell on it at length. Hence definite 'the'.

The adjective, 'sadistic' limits Henry and "a/an/the" preceding 'sadistic' determine one Henry of sadistic nature. Articles determine whether his sadistic temperament is well defined or just one in the anonymity of his many more qualities.


"A(n)" and "the" are both two types of a special kind of adjective called determiners. "A(n)" is called an indefinite determiner, while "the" is called a definite determiner. So what's the difference?

"A(n)" can possibly mean many things. There are many blue cars in the world, so if I say "a blue car", I could be talking about any of them. "The", however, can only mean one thing. So, for example, while there are many blue cars in the world, if I say "the blue car" I am referring to one and only one blue car.

  • 2
    I agree with you, but I'm not sure this answers the OP's question - how does this apply to a person's name? Does "the ____ Charlie" mean the author is referring to one and only one Charlie, while "a ____ Charlie" means he could be talking about any Charlie? I don't think it works that way with names.
    – stangdon
    Commented Apr 1, 2017 at 0:57

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