play detective vs. play the detective

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Senior Member

Can you please tell me if it's correct to include 'the' in this type of structure or if it should always be omitted?. I have come across idioms such as 'play devil's advocate' that sometimes are used with 'the' and sometimes without it so I suppose it's a matter of personal preference? I know that some cases are considered fixed sentences such as: play the fool or play God. Is there any flexibility when it comes to this or should I literally memorize every example?

For instance:

1a. I'm sick of having to play detective with you.

1b. I'm sick of having to play the detective with you.

2a. I have been playing good daughter to get my dad to buy me a car.

2b. I have been playing the good daughter to get my dad to buy me a car.

3a. He is always playing the idiot.

3b. He is always playing idiot.

Thank you for your help!
  • Myridon

    Senior Member
    English - US
    A person doesn't have to be a detective to play (the role of) detective.
    A person does need to be a daughter to play the good daughter.


    I have a guess though. Playing the idiot/fool is an idiom, because it's common to play it. While playing the role of detective is not as common.:) That work?


    Senior Member
    I have seen 'play the fool' in many dictionaries such as The Longman Dictionary but never 'play the idiot'

    Given that 'play dumb' or 'play stupid is very common, I would be inclined to say 'play idiot'.

    I think our best option would be to memorize the versions of this structure we will be more likely to use or find the most useful.
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