A / the American English professor

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Roymalika

Senior Member
Punjabi
John Smith, an/the American English professor, said that we should use a question mark at the end of a question.
What's the difference between a and the here?
 
  • Roymalika

    Senior Member
    Punjabi
    A assumes you don’t know of him. The assumes you do.
    But I've heard from a teacher that
    The English professor means there's only one English professor named John Smith who said that
    An English professor means there are more than one English professors named John Smith. And he is one of them.

    Is it wrong?
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    But I've heard from a teacher that The English professor means there's only one English professor named John Smith who said that
    An English professor means there are more than one English professors named John Smith. And he is one of them.

    Is it wrong?
    Yes, it’s wrong. Or you misunderstood. However, if you use an article to modify the man’s name, rather than his description, that’s another matter. If you call someone “a John Smith”, then you do imply that he may be one of a number of people of that name (or that he’s just some random person who happens to have that name). But you’d then have to use a clause to describe his occupation; for example: a John Smith, who is a professor.

    But the constructions you’re actually talking about work like this:


    John Smith, an American English professor
    = John Smith, who (for your information) is an American English professor
    John Smith, the American English professor
    = John Smith, who (as you know) is an American English professor
     

    dojibear

    Senior Member
    English - Northeast US
    "John Smith, an American English professor," = A person who is named John Smith (by the way, he is an AE professor)

    "John Smith, the American English professor," = The person who is named John Smith and who is an AE professor
     

    VicNicSor

    Banned
    Russian
    The idea of "John Smith, the American English professor, ...." is that there's only one American English professor by the name of "John Smith" whom the speaker thinks the listener may know.
     

    lingobingo

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I am somehow mixing the ideas of #2 and #3, don't know how to tackle this. :(
    Your explanation in post #3 is misguided. This has nothing to do with there being more than one person called John Smith. That would be expressed differently (see #5).

    John Smith, an American English professor / John Smith, the American English professor

    The man’s name is given first. Then it’s modified by the description of him as either a professor (indefinite article on the basis that the listener/reader doesn’t yet know he’s a professor; this is the first time they’re being told that) or the professor (definite article because this is just to reinforce the identity of John Smith by his occupation). The articles are used the same way in general for someone unknown or known:

    Fred Bloggs, a Lancashire postman / Maggie Rowbottom, an aunt of mine
    Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of facebook / J.K. Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter
     
    Last edited:

    SevenDays

    Senior Member
    Spanish/AE
    John Smith, an/the American English professor, said that we should use a question mark at the end of a question.
    What's the difference between a and the here?
    Let's start with syntax first. Notice that the following is debatable:

    John Smith, American English professor, said that we should use a question mark at the end of a question

    "American English professor" is a count noun part of a predicate noun phrase. To see the predicate noun phrase, you need to understand that "American English professor" is part of a reduced relative clause:

    John Smith, who is an American English professor, said that we should use a question mark at the end of a question

    where the relative pronoun "who" and the auxiliary "is" are deleted because they are not needed (syntax likes to omit unnecessary things). More importantly, syntax marks predicate noun phrases with the indefinite pronoun:

    John Smith, an American English professor, said that we should use a question mark at the end of a question

    The indefinite pronoun is the default pronoun; the pronoun that syntax uses to mark predicate noun phrases. That's why we say He is an American professor ( :tick: ) rather than He is American professor (:cross:). A predicate noun phrase requires the indefinite pronoun.

    But language isn't just a matter of syntax; context matters.

    If the "American English professor" is identifiable (i.e., "American English professor" has been mentioned before), we use the definite article. And we also use the definite article if you need to differentiate this "English professor" (an "American") from another "English professor" (perhaps there is a "British English professor"). Either way, to identify or to differentiate, the definite article replaces the indefinite article:

    John Smith, the American English professor, said that we should use a question mark at the end of a question
     
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