Generally the indefinite article is not used with names of people, however, there a few exceptions. One one of them is when there is a descriptive attribute before a person's name. For example:

"Yesterday I met an angry Kate at the cafe."

Is this usage of the indefinite article optional, and what does it mean?

2 Answers 2


This is an interesting construct and a great question.

Let's start by explaining it this way: Instead of using the proper name, use a generic word instead. Then the sentences will make a lot more sense:

Yesterday I met an angry woman at the cafe.

The astounded man could not say a word.

Those probably make sense, and articles do not seem odd or out-of-place.

When you substitute the person's name for the generic word, the sentence carries more meaning.

Yesterday I met an angry Kate at the cafe.

If I heard this, I would assume:

  • You and I both know Kate – this wasn't some random stranger who was angry
  • Kate is not usually angry – this isn't her usual mental state

Therefore, I'd probably answer with something like:

Oh? What was she angry about?


What happened to Kate?

As for:

The astounded John could not say a word.

That pretty much says the same thing as

John was astounded and couldn't say a word

but it has a more poetic ring to it; you are ascribing a state of astonishment to John.

As for the other example in your comment:

Mike was accompanied by the beautiful Sara Hope.

This is different; in this case, I would interpret the definite article to mean that Sara Hope is a person with some fame or celebrity, and Mike was with the famous celebrity, not some unknown person who happened to have the same name.

At any rate, these constructs are grammatical and valid, but they are also a bit unusual. I would caution against overusing them in casual conversations.

  • Would love to know if this has some nice linguistic name for it, I have come across this construct a lot, and it is always in the form of "a/an [adjective] <name>" where the adjective is usually something describing how the person feels or acts, and the person is someone introduced in the story at least once before (as in, we know who the name refers to exactly) Oct 14, 2023 at 22:25

This is a common rhetorical device; you speak of Kate as being a different person on different occasions, and in effect recategorize the proper name as the class of all those people rather than as a specific individual.


I'm not half the man I used to be.

Here the singer treats himself as two different men, the one he used to be and the one he is now.

  • I have seen other simular sentences but they were with the definite articles, and I cannot see the difference between the following expressions. "The astounded John could not say a word". " Mike was accompanied by the beautiful Sara Hope." why are the definet articles used in these sentences instead of "a"? Aug 17, 2017 at 13:59

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