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An example (from The New Yorker) of a phrase with a false title (psychologist John Hayes):

After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, the psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years.

Both THE and the zero article could be used with false titles, but which looks better in this sentence to a native speaker? Would this look OK:

After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, _ psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years.

What if we beefed up the phrase with an adjunct? Would 0 and THE both look fine?

After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, (Ø/the) cognitive psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years.

After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, (Ø/the) American cognitive psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers and found that, in almost every case, those composers did not create their greatest work until they had been composing for at least ten years.

It seems that THE looks O.K. when a false title is short ("psychologist") but starts looking strange before some complex combinations.

  • 1
    In linguistics, zero is usually written with the empty set symbol (which I usually put as Ø for technical reasons, though it's more properly ). It's not usually written with the numeral 0, which often shows up (as in your question) without the diagonal line through the circle. This is confusing to me, so I've been editing your questions. The other convention is this: when you list two choices with a slash meaning "or", it's most often a forward slash (/), not a backslash. I'm commenting here so you can edit it yourself, if you'd like; or not, if you'd rather not. – snailcar Aug 23 '13 at 11:44
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    (Neither convention is cast in stone, so I don't mean to tell you that the way you've written it is "wrong", only that it's confusing to me, personally.) – snailcar Aug 23 '13 at 11:49
  • Thanks, snailboat, I'll try keeping my posts well-formatted from now on! – CowperKettle Aug 23 '13 at 12:08
  • One thing that complicates this particular example is the fact that Simon and Chase could also bear the title of psychologist(s). – Tyler James Young Aug 23 '13 at 20:52
  • This article is highly relevant. It seems they don't think it counts as a false title if they use "the". – Laurel Jun 7 '17 at 3:15
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When both options are acceptable, it's very hard (if not impossible) to tell which would "look better" without larger context.

To me, they both mean the same thing, however the emphasis is slightly different. In this particular quote, with the ∅ article, a bit more emphasis seems to be on the name of the individual:

After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers...

With the definite article, though, some of the emphasis seems to shift to the title:

After Simon and Chase’s paper, for example, the psychologist John Hayes looked at seventy-six famous classical composers...

So, if you're more interested in conveying who did the study, perhaps the ∅ article would work slightly better. On the other hand, if you want to emphasize that person's field of expertise, then it may be better to include the definite article.

In this particular instance, that latter option might work well when researchers from several different areas studied the problem – psychologists, human factors engineers, social scientists, anthropologists, etc. – but you want to emphasize this was a psychological study. However, the former might work better if several psychiatrists studied the problem, but we were interested only in examining Hayes' findings.

It should be noted this is difference is very, very subtle, and not all readers may not interpret it in the same way. I'm not giving rules to be dogmatic about, I'm giving considerations to ponder. I will stand by this one point: you can't always tell the best option when you look at only a single sentence; you need to look at what else is in the paragraph, and even what else is in the surrounding text.

2

I don't know of any rule on this. With and without "the" both look fine to me, and I see no difference in the meaning conveyed.

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    This level of contribution is probably more appropriate as a comment on the question. – Tyler James Young Feb 25 '14 at 19:44
1

"The" can be omitted here in written language, and it is common to omit this in journalism. In this case, the omission can only occur the first time the person is introduced. In fact, it's better to think of "Psychologist John Hayes says..." as abbreviating "John Hayes, who is a psychologist, says..." than as abbreviating "The psychologist John Hayes says..."

This type of construction does not seem to occur in spoken language (except oral readings of written language, like newscasts or political speeches).

1

As @J.R. answered, both are correct, and to decide which is 'better' is very subjective and mainly a question of style. However, I would say that for longer combinations of adjuncts, it might be slightly better to omit the 'the', in case it is mistakenly thought that it implies uniqueness.

In other words, it takes a tiny bit of thought to distinguish between

the British architect and Neo-Modern thinker, John Smith (one of many)

and

the British architect and inventor of Neo-Modernism, John Smith (the only one)

Of course the alert reader should be able to figure out what is meant, but it's one more speed-bump in reading quickly and flowingly.

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