I noticed that one would not always write "the boy Tommy", sometimes "Tommy the boy" is written instead.

My questions are:

1) Are they equivalent? That is to say, are they interchangeable everywhere?

2) If not, then would you please provide some counterexamples?

  • Can you provide some examples of how they are used? I don't use either very often, though neither is necessarily incorrect; it might also be Tommy, the boy or the boy, Tommy or boy Tommy or Tommy as a boy in various situations.
    – choster
    Aug 17, 2014 at 13:53
  • Is it a brand? A film? What? Explanation needed. Or you want to ask The [something] and [something] the [something]?
    – Maulik V
    Oct 8, 2014 at 5:11

1 Answer 1


Ordinarily the first term will be one which has already been introduced into your discourse, and the second will provide a more specific identification.

  • The boy Tommy identifies Tommy as the particular boy you are talking about: this boy rather than that boy.

    Mrs. Kowalski identified the boy Tommy as the one who had stolen her handbag.
    The boy Tommy has been located, but Jimmy is still missing.

  • Tommy the boy identifies the boy as the particular Tommy you are talking about: Tommy the boy rather than Tommy the girl, or young Tommy rather than grown-up Tommy.

    Tommy the boy is rather stupid, but Tommy the girl is a math prodigy.
    Tommy the boy was always in trouble; but now he is Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

Sometimes the second term is bracketed in commas or parentheses; this marks the identification as 'supplemental', additional information of secondary importance:

The boy, Tommy, has brown hair and is about 4'10" tall.
Tommy, the boy, has been located, but his father Jimmy is still missing.

  • Agree with these as default interpretations, but it could depend on context/intonation. One could contrast "the boy Tommy" with "the adult Tommy" (same individual at different ages).
    – nschneid
    Aug 14, 2021 at 4:51

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