English as a Second Language/The definite article

Advertisement


Question
Hello!
I have been trying hard to find definite rules for the use of the definite article before common and proper nouns but until now I have not been successful.

Examples,
(1) Is it grammatically correct to say "the singer Fairuz"? (she is the most famous Lebanese singer).

(2) Which is grammatically correct and why?

a. "Chess inside" magazine, the "Chess Inside" magazine, or the magazine "Chess Inside"?
b. The pop singer Elvis Prestly or pop singer Elvis Presetly.
c. Ancient Egypt or the ancient Egyypt.
d. "The New York Times" newspaper, or the newspaper "The New York Times".
e. I am the teacher Antoine Ghannoum or I am teacher Antoine Ghannoum.

Lastly, they say "the prophet Muhammmad" the Apostle Paul, whereas President Obama????

The British Prime Minister John or British Prime Minister John - which is correct and why?

Thanks a lot in advance.
Best regards,
Antoine Ghannoum

Answer
Hello, Antoine,

Before I start my response proper, I need to say that there is a great deal of flexibility in the way native speakers use articles. The 'rules' are not nearly as rigid as some style guides suggest. My response is from a teacher and a native speaker of British English, but that does not mean it is the only absolutely correct answer.

You also need to realise that we need more context to give a really satisfactory answer.

1. All of the following are grammatically correct and natural:

I. Fairuz, the famous Lebanese singer, will be appearing at the X Theatre in London next week.
II. The famous Lebanese singer Fairuz will be appearing at the X Theatre in London next week.

In the first two sentences, the definite article clearly defines Fairuz, who may be unknown to the readers/listeners.

III. All the performers received a warm reception, especially the singer, Fairuz.
IV. All the performers received a warm reception, especially Fairuz, the singer.

In the third and fourth sentences, the definite article defines Fairuz as being the one performer who was a singer.

V. The singer Fairuz yesterday paid her own tribute to the actor X, who died two days ago in New York.

In the fifth sentence, the writer/speaker is perhaps suggesting that Fairuz is a well-known performer, but some of the readers/listeners may need reminding that it is as a singer that she is well known, In news reports, the definite articles may be omitted. Job titles are increasingly being treated in news reports in the same way as, for example, ministerial and military titles and ranks, though without the capitalisation: Queen Elizabeth II, President Obama, Colonel Blimp, singer Fairuz.

2. Once again, context is important, and there may be acceptable alternatives to the sentences I give below:

a. "Chess inside" magazine, the "Chess Inside" magazine, or the magazine "Chess Inside"?

The first and third are fine. The second is possible in some contexts, but it would be safer not to use it.

b. The pop singer Elvis Prestly or pop singer Elvis Presetly.
Both are possible; see my response to 1.V, above. Note that his surname is 'Presley'.  

c. Ancient Egypt or the ancient Egypt.

The first is always correct, except in such contexts as 'The ancient Egypt that Professor Curton described in his 1987 lectures was a very different one from the one that I had learnt about at Oxford in the 1960s.'

d. "The New York Times" newspaper, or the newspaper "The New York Times".

Both are possible. The first is more likely.

e. I am the teacher Antoine Ghannoum or I am teacher Antoine Ghannoum.

The first is possible; the second is very unlikely.  

English as a Second Language

All Answers


Answers by Expert:


Ask Experts

Volunteer


Jed Webb

Expertise

I can assist with questions about English grammar (syntax, morphology, pronunciation and spelling)from learners taking such examinations as TOEFL, IELTS, FCE and CAE and other internationally recognised tests.

Experience

I have over forty years of experience in the teaching of modern languages, twenty-four of them in the Teaching of English as a Second Language. I have been an examiner for FCE, BEC and IELTS examinations, and a teacher trainer on courses leading to the Trinity College Certificate in TESOL.

Organizations
The Philological Society The International Phonetic Association The College of Teachers The International Association of Teachers of EFL The Royal Society of Arts (Fellow)

Publications
British Journal of Language Teaching, Vol XIX Nos I and II Education Today, Vol 41, Nos 1 and 3 Co-Author: Nix and Webb (1984) 'Creative English', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Contributor: Nix and Riederer (1973), 'Bottoms Up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Rosenau and Nix, (1979), 'Look it up', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen Nix and Ringholz, 'English in Projects', Bad Homburg: Verlag Gehlen

Education/Credentials
BA (English), University of Durham. Qualified Teacher Status, UK Department of Education and Science Further and Adult Education Teacher's Certificate, City and Guilds of London Institute ACP(TESOL), College of Preceptors Dip TESOL, Trinity College, London Dip Ed (ELT), Exeter University ACP (Management Studies in Education), College of Teachers Certificate of Proficiency in the Phonetics of English, International Phonetic Association

Past/Present Clients
I have taught: General and Business English classes for: Alcan, Allianz Versicherung, Robert Bosch, Daimler-Benz, Ford, Hewlett Packard, Kodak, Mövenpick, Radiomobil (O2), Siemens, Unilever. TOEFL and FCE classes for: eská Spoitelna,SOB, Czech Ministry of Trade, Czech Statistics Office.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.