a) Sam a boxer (the is possible) -> ___??? boxer Sam

b) Sam a nurse -> ___??? nurse Sam

c) Sam a painter -> ___??? painter Sam

d) Kate Hudson an actress -> ___??? actress Kate Hudson

e) Burns a poet -> ___??? poet Burns

f) Sam a girl -> ___??? girl Sam

g) Sam a friend -> ___??? friend Sam

  1. When appositives are expressed by people’s names, should their occupations be treated as titles and thus use no article in front of them or the very occupation should be regarded as a Head Word and hence an article is placed?
  2. If an article is prescribed by grammar in those cases, then what article: definite or indefinite?
  3. The same question applies when any other regular noun (not an occupation) is used – girl, friend. Those are definitely not titles. Should an article be used, what article?

Grammar by Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey K. Pullum, (pp. 519-522) in

THE architect Norman Foster treats ARCHITECT as a Head Word and adds THE. But I rarely find the usage of article THE in such cases when searching on Google and in newspapers. Confused!

  • It helps if you provide a context, like a specific sentence. It depends on the role they play in the sentence. For instance subject/object, and whether the article/paper/book/etc is about the person or they're just included as an example or someone who plays a minor role. In things like photo captions, headlines, and article titles, different rules apply.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 3 at 9:04
  • What i am doing now is reading newspapers and other publicatios to collect examples and prove the statement i found. Even on the point of the title usage oppions greatly differ.
    – IRINA
    Apr 3 at 9:23
  • I understand this type of construstion: Sam, a boxer, is a champion. But what if i reverse, - A/THE/???- boxer, Sam, is a champion. ???? Does the rule change?
    – IRINA
    Apr 3 at 9:26
  • Stuart F, I was initially confused by the fact stated in one grammar book which says that if it is the title, President, for instance, no article is used in construction - President Bill wins election – but if that title is replaced by a profession or regular noun, a girl, for instance, THE should be used – The girl Martha is in class.
    – IRINA
    Apr 3 at 9:28

1 Answer 1


Apposition is where a succession of noun phrases are used to add additional information to help identify someone or something. These are easily identifiable because the phrases should be comma-separated:

Sam, a painter, is coming to paint my walls.

The kind of examples you are referring to which have no commas and use the definite article are not appositives; they are just vocative phrases, or descriptive identifiers. Some people are known by a vocative phrase, such as 'Bob the Builder', or 'Alexander the Great'.

Your specific example, 'The architect Norman Foster', is probably not a name the man goes by, and the writer could have used apposition to refer to him (eg "Norman Foster, an architect, wrote that...."). But this is a good way to introduce someone of note to an audience that may not have heard of him. Saying he's "an architect" doesn't make him sound noteworthy. He's just any old architect. And further, if you say his name first and then have to appositively explain who he is, he can't be that famous. This way he sounds like someone noteworthy you should have heard of.

  • Astralbee, thank you for your reply. But what if we treat my examples as appositives and i add commas, should i treat professions(occupations) mentioned above as titles and use no article?
    – IRINA
    Apr 3 at 9:00
  • 1
    @IRINA by definition, appositives are separate phrases that provide 'extra' information, so they ought to be parenthetical (separated by commas or parenthesis). Grammatically, an article should used. Without an article, supporting information would seem like shorthand and might be better offset in parenthesis so that it doesn't have to obey the rules of grammar that the rest of your sentence does. For example, "I asked Dave (builder,32) if he enjoyed his work".
    – Astralbee
    Apr 3 at 12:06
  • 1
    "The architect Norman Foster", "The actress Kate Hudson", "the poet [Robert] Burns" are written like that because they are all well-known people. "Norman Foster, the architect" would do just as well, but for a little-known person it would be "Fred Bloggs, an architect..." Apr 3 at 13:46
  • 1
    @KateBunting Exactly. You should have heard of the poet Robert Burns. So saying "the architect Norman Foster" suggests the same. I've never heard of him, personally. He might as well be Fred Bloggs. So it makes for a more impactful quote.
    – Astralbee
    Apr 3 at 13:54
  • 1
    Appositives don't add information; they identify the preceding noun. They may be integrated (modifying) as in We went to see the Opera Carmen or supplementary (non-modifying) as in A university lecturer, Dr Brown, was arrested for the crime.
    – BillJ
    Apr 3 at 14:16

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