I am sure this has been asked in the past, but I can't find any rule and I would like to understand what's going on. "The" is never used for proper names, that much I know. When I google "playwright William Shakespeare", it still seems the correct way to say it is without "the". But once I get to "British playwright William Shakespeare", it suddenly seems correct to add "the", as is "the British playwright William Shakespeare". What am I missing and should I still ommit the definite article is the latter case? TIA Ruth

  • 1
    Actually, "the" can be as a determiner with proper names as in "That's not the David Smith that I went to school with". Elsewhere, "the" is typically found with proper names that have nominal modifiers as embellishments, which is what "British playwright" is.
    – BillJ
    Jun 16, 2019 at 8:19
  • Or look no further than Donald Trump who refers to himself as The Donald or Bruce Springsteen who goes by The Boss. Jun 16, 2019 at 17:11

1 Answer 1


The rule about not using "the" before proper names doesn't apply when you have something descriptive in between: a noun phrase like "British playwright," or even just an adjective like "wonderful." This is a way to refer to someone and also describe them - instead of saying "I want to thank Anna Karenina, who is a wonderful person," you can just say "I want to thank the wonderful Anna Karenina."

That being said, if it is a noun like "playwright," you can also omit the "the" for a slightly different tone that's hard to describe. Maybe a little more formal and respectful. So for example you could say either:

The British playwright William Shakespeare once wrote, ...

you could say

British playwright William Shakespeare once wrote, ...

which sounds better to my ear. This works better at the beginning of a sentence.

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