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Why is there no article (a or the) in front of "President"?
Is the title grammatically correct?

Link to Gawker.com

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    What do you wanna be? "I wanna be pilot." Pretty sure title's grammatically correct! Well, I think there was a "similar" question on this. Let me find it.... – M.A.R. Apr 7 '15 at 15:30
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    @MARamezani I don't think "I wanna be pilot" is correct. Sung, good question! The title sounds right to me, but I can't explain why. It also sounds right if you replace "president" with "king" or "mayor". But it sounds wrong if you say "senator". – James Apr 7 '15 at 15:47
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    @DJMcMayhem I think "Senator" doesn't work because there is more than one - I think any singular position will work (Mayor) and any group doesn't work (Councilman). My first thought is that "President" is both a title and a role. A person can be the Prime Minister of a country, and also be Prime Minister Smith. I have to think about it some more. – ColleenV Apr 7 '15 at 15:56
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    But I want to be pilot is ungrammatical unless we're talking about a particular airplane. As a career choice, it requires "a pilot". – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 7 '15 at 15:57
  • @ColleenV, that's what I thought also, but then "pope" came to mind. "When I grow up, I wanna be pope" sounds wrong. There's only one pope. Also, you can be the pope, and you can also be pope Francis. – James Apr 7 '15 at 16:00
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"President", like "king", "governor", etc, is a title and so doesn't need an article. No doubt confusing, it CAN be used with an article. You can say, "He wants to be president" or "He wants to be the president". If it's a job that many people have simultaneously, you'd normally say "a" rather than "the". Like, "He wants to be senator" or "He wants to be a senator".

You can use a title without an article as long as its a title that could actually go in front of someone's name. Like we say, "President Jones", so you could say, "Jones wants to be president." It usually doesn't apply to job descriptions, as opposed to titles. That is, you can't say, "He wants to be accountant", because no one calls a person "Accountant Jones".

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English does not always require an article before nouns. Specifically:

  1. Proper nouns, e.g. "I'm going to France." [But "I'm going to the Philippines," is correct for the plural.] President, in this case, is used as a proper noun, but if it were "I want to be a Senator," since there are many, the article may be used.

  2. Some nouns are often used without an article, as in, "Go to school." In the UK, "Go to hospital," is more common, but in the US, it's more likely to be "Go to the hospital."

Idiomatic English is not consistent, however. An article on the article "The Ukraine" points out how it can change connotation.

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    I think you're confusing the question by dragging in a different issue: While most place names in English do not use an article, a few do. Like "the Phillipines", "the Azores", etc. – Jay Apr 7 '15 at 17:29
  • I also think place names are a different grammatical situation than the title/role situation in the question. There was an interesting article in Slate that talked about why some places use the definite article and some do not. Place names that indicate plurality—usually referring to a collection of islands, mountains, or other geographic features—also tend to take the definite article. @Jay – ColleenV Apr 7 '15 at 17:34
  • @Jay: But those, and most of the similar examples I can think of offhand, are not singular places, but a group of places. The Phillipines and the Azores are groups of islands, the United States is a political entity that was (originally) formed from a group of states, etc. I dunno about the Bronx, though: is it perhaps composed of multiple Brons? – jamesqf Apr 7 '15 at 19:22
  • @jamesqf The Bronx is attached to the river - one of the geographical features that Jonas Bronck attached his name to. wirednewyork.com/forum/showthread.php?t=6598 – ColleenV Apr 7 '15 at 19:46
  • We had another question on this once. Island groups, rivers, and mountains routinely take "the", as in "the Philippines", "the Mississippi River", "the Rocky Mountains". Most other place names don't. I suppose island groups fit your theory. Mountain chains are arguably a group of mountains. Rivers don't fit so well. And then there are the odd ones, like "the Ukraine", "the Caucasus", "the Antarctic", "the Czech Republic", etc. – Jay Apr 7 '15 at 19:49

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