Do you say Industrialist Henry Ford or the industrialist Henry Ford?

I have been speaking English in the US for 8 years now. The pattern I am seeing is that when you call someone by placing their degree or job title before their name (usually their last name), you capitalize the degree or job title, like Doctor Parker or Poet Shakespeare. But you don't need to capitalize the degree if you add the word "the", like the poet Shakespeare (you probably don't need "poet" since Shakespeare is so famous.)

Here the question comes whether you can just all lowercase letters without "the". I just saw it used today in a book:"As humorist Will Rogers would note of his industrialist friend..."

(One bonus question: can I have great humorist Will Rogers, or the great humorist Will Rogers? Now, I am using "great".)

1 Answer 1


We generally don’t use the article before titles, unless they are treated as common nouns, for instance when they are preceded by an adjective. Therefore, we say “Professor John Smith” (note the uppercase for “Professor”), but “the famous professor John Smith.” If there is an adjective, it causes the effect of turning the title (usually a proper name) into a common noun.

In the case of famous people, such as artists, the noun preceding the name may not be a title but merely a profession introduced to better identify the person in question. In this case, we can either use or omit the definite article, the trend being very much in favour of the former, for instance: “the (American) writer Paul Auster”.

In conclusion:

  1. If the common noun is a title (e.g. doctor, judge) and does not take an adjective, it is more usual to omit the article: Judge John Smith, Doctor Mary Peters.

  2. If the common noun is a title but is preceded by an adjective, it is more usual to use the definite article: the Honourable Judge John Smith, the English doctor Mary Peters.

  3. If the common noun is merely a profession rather than a title, it is more usual to use the definite article if it refers to a well-known person, whether the noun takes an adjective or not: the (American) poet Walt Whitman, but if the common noun is a general noun added to describe somebody that is unknown to the general public, we tend to omit the article, as in: (Argentinean) teacher Gustavo Sanchez.

Therefore, based on (3) above, I'd say "the industrialist Henry Ford" and "the great humorist Will Rogers".

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