Indefinite article with proper name: <a> screaming Dudley


Cantonese - Hong Kong
Hi everyone

... she wrestled a screaming Dudley into his high chair.

It sounds interesting, but why J.K.Rowling wrote so? I mean, adding an indefinite article before a person's name.

Thank you!
  • temple09

    Senior Member
    English - British
    This is quite a standard method in written English - where the writer refers to a person in a way which makes them sound more like an entity than a person. It is normally used in situations like this - to emphasize the adjective of the object of the sentence.
    She could have written -
    "She wrestled Dudley, who was screaming, into his high chair" or
    "Dudley was screaming, so she wrestled him into his highchair"
    Neither of these would be wrong, but the version she used works better, since it demonstrates the casual nature of the way in which she had to do something (something which was so familiar that the verb "screaming" becomes and adjective).
    You are less likely to hear this in conversation though.


    India - Hindi & English
    I haven't read Rowling ever, but I assume whoever's Dudley isn't screaming all the time. Hence the indefinite article, to denote one of the transient/temporary conditions of Dudley.


    Senior Member
    < Added to previous thread. Cagey, moderator. >

    Today, while listening to a Harry Potter audiobook, I heard the following sentence: "Mr Dursley hummed as he picked out his most boring tie for work and Mrs Dursley gossiped away happily as she wrestled a screaming Dudley into his highchair." I have seen constructions of that type (a/an + adjective/participle + a proper name) on the Net before, but it was the first time I encountered one in a published book.
    I have never seen this specific use of "a" mentioned, much less explained, in any of my grammar books. Of course, I know that there are other situations when an article can be used before a name, but not this specific one.
    So, my question is, any of the native speakers here familiar with this usage? I guess it must be fairly new, because I never run into anything like that during the pre-Internet era. If you want more examples of this usage, try googling for phrases like "a harried Ross" or "a flustered Mary" (those two actually return some hits) or any similar phrases you can think of.
    Last edited by a moderator:


    Senior Member
    English - England
    Dudley is usually uncountable, because there is only one of him: hence no article. However, if proper nouns are qualified by an adjective, they are often also qualified with an article. We act as if there were no longer only one Dudley, but several of them - a screaming Dudley, a silent Dudley, etc.


    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    Valvs, this is an atypical use of a proper name, where usually no article is used. But this use is fairly well established.

    Imagine thinking of a person and dividing this person up into different personalities or different ages, and you want to indicate which one you are trying to refer to. We might therefore say things like:

    I saw a very sleepy Dudley at the service.
    That is a very young-looking Peter Davison on television.

    This is not a new usage.


    Senior Member
    This use predates the internet, Valvs. It's primarily a literary device, and one that's often used humorously: An angry Mr. Brown came to the door; ...she wrestled a screaming Dudley into his highchair, etc.


    Senior Member
    Thanks everyone!
    Imagine thinking of a person and dividing this person up into different personalities or different ages, and you want to indicate which one you are trying to refer to.
    Yes, I figured it must have been something like that, but I couldn't find a clear explanation in any of the grammar books available to me.


    Senior Member
    English - South-East England
    The same thing can be done with place names: This is a less attractive Venice; this is a Venice the tourists don't see.


    Senior Member
    USA - English
    It can be done with most proper nouns. For example, you can do it with the names of plays or operas:

    I did not want to stage the same sort of Hamlet that has been seen a hundred times before; I wanted to produce a new and fresh Hamlet that would appeal to today's audience.



    Senior Member
    Entagled, GWB, thank you. I am familiar with the usages you speak about in your posts, but that is not quite what I was asking about (although). A sentence like "It was a Jack I had never seen before" wouldn't have probably raised any questions from me, either, even though it speaks about a person.
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