The definite article before “unique” nouns is sometimes omitted:

“My brother is chief of this expedition”

“You should discuss it with Mary, dean of our faculty”

“He was appointed captain of S.S. Minsk”

“I miss mom!” et c.

Sometimes it is not:

“He was elected the president of the United States”

Are there any rules governing such omissions? Is it possible to mention nannies, drivers, gardeners, dog-walkers, butlers et c. without articles in case if they are almost part of the family? What if I am not part of that family?

  • 2
    I don't agree with all of your examples. To me, it feels wrong to not use the definite article before 'S.S. Minsk;, but I've no problem with it being omitted before 'president'. As to your question about the rules? I have no idea. Dec 5, 2018 at 9:29
  • 1
    I borrowed those examples from a textbook. In addition, there are other examples like these: “Marsh was appointed captain of Western Australia last summer under former Warriors coach…” (from www.cricket.com.au). As for “The president of the United States” – I wrote it myself, and since I am not a native speaker, I might be wrong (and I appreciate being corrected).
    – Zak
    Dec 5, 2018 at 10:14
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    He was appointed captain of S.S. Minsk” simply means that it's a title. You couldn't be "elected a president" or "elected the president" but "elected president", and it's especially true in this sentence, as there's not only one unique captain, so it can't be "elected the capitain), or "elected a capitain" like any captain. It makes sense to use elected+title without article, as you can't know if it's a unique place (president) or no (captains)
    – Quidam
    Oct 23, 2019 at 10:44

1 Answer 1


Each of your examples is a title or a name. It is very common, particularly in the United States, to drop the definite article before nouns serving as titles. Each of these sentences (except for the one with "Mom", because it's used as a name) would also be grammatical had you included the definite article, so if you are unsure, it is safer not to drop it.

My brother is chief of this expedition.

You should discuss it with Mary, dean of our faculty.

He was appointed captain of the S.S. Minsk.

I miss Mom!

He was elected President of the United States.

You cited the last sentence as an example of one requiring the definite article, but it is quite common to omit "the" here as well. Also note that "President" should be capitalized when it is part of the proper noun phrase "President of the United States."

"Mom" should also be capitalized when it is used as a name/title referring to the speakers mother but not when it is used as a general noun.

"I called Mom." vs "I called my mom."

"When is Mom coming home?" vs "When is your mom coming home?"

The definite article should be used with driver, nanny, and butler, except when the words are used in place of a name or as part of a name. Examples include:

Driver, take me to Park Avenue.

Nanny Taylor, can I have more ice cream?

However, something like "I was just hired as driver for Uber" would be wrong. Unfortunately, there isn't really a formal rule to determine whether nouns can be considered titles/names. However, a good rule of thumb might be that more common nouns are less likely to be used as titles. Again, there is nothing wrong with something like "He is the chief of this expedition", so you can decide to keep the definite article when you are unsure.

  • Thanks! But what about drivers, butlers, nannies et c.? Can these also be considered titles?
    – Zak
    Dec 6, 2018 at 7:57
  • @Zak You're welcome I have updated the answer.
    – Tashus
    Dec 6, 2018 at 16:04

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