No article is used with official titles, like 'President Clinton', but the rule does not apply to all professions, right?

I know that in postposition it goes with an indefinite article, like

John Doe, a (famous) writer, announced that he's going to write a new book.

But I don't have a clear idea about prepositional cases (I mean when such words are before a name).

  • I answered a question here a few days ago on this: in a certain journalistic style, the may appear with no article: Famous writer John Doe announced ... But this is not appropriate for general writing. – Colin Fine Nov 4 '19 at 10:30

I'm sure you know that the definite article, "the" is used to point to a specific person or thing, of which there is just one. The indefinite article is used for things that are common.

In your example, there may be more than one person named John Doe. There are also many famous writers. Whether you use the definite, or indefinite article depends on whether or not you assume your audience will know 'John Doe the famous writer' and what you are trying to stress.

If you don't think your audience is likely to know 'the famous writer, John Doe' (this is a bad example, because "famous" implies that everybody ought to know him, but still...) and you just wish to quote him because he is "a famous writer", then the indefinite article is appropriate:

John Doe, a famous writer, once said...

This says that you are quoting a man named John Doe, and his credential is that he is a famous writer (among many other famous writers that you could have quoted).

If you think your audience ought to know who John Doe is, or you want to make it clear that you are quoting from a specific 'John Doe' (and not just anybody else with the same name), you would say:

John Doe, the famous writer, once said...


The famous writer John Doe once said...

This makes it clear that you are referring to John Doe the writer, not John Doe the plumber, or John Doe the unidentified dead guy.

If, however, a person is extremely familiar to you and your audience, and it would not be surprising that you should quote from them; or they are so famous and well-known that their name alone will make it clear who you are referring to, there may be no need to use either article. You could just say:

John Doe once said...


President Clinton once said...

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    Do I understand correctly that 'President Clinton' goes with no article, but, for example, 'the head of the state antitrust agency John Doe' would require the indefinite article? Why? Does whether or not it's an official title, as in the first example, matter? – Sergey Zolotarev Nov 4 '19 at 21:25
  • @SergeyZolotarev There is no list of people that do not require a definite article. If you assume that your audience knows who "President Clinton" is, then you don't need an article, just as you when you are talking with your friends, you say their names, you don't say "a friend of mine" every time. If you were speaking to someone who did not know who President Clinton was (or who you don't think will), then you might need to say "Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States". – Astralbee Nov 4 '19 at 21:31
  • *definite (typo) – Sergey Zolotarev Nov 4 '19 at 21:32
  • Let me repeat my question, "Does whether or not it's an official title, as in the first example, matter?" I mean if I'm paraphrasing the official name of a job, as I did in my example, does it mean that I should use an article (as opposed to Head of the Federal Antimonopoly Service John Doe)? Or is it not a factor at all? – Sergey Zolotarev Nov 4 '19 at 21:41
  • And do you mean that if my interlocutor is not expected to know Clinton, I can say 'the president Clinton' (with a lowercase letter, on top)? – Sergey Zolotarev Nov 4 '19 at 21:43

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