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There is the following sentence in the scene a reputed lawyer, Thomas Cohen gives advice to 16-year old client William Kane, the son of deceased bank owner on the issue of inheritance of his father’s property in Jeffery Archer’s popular fiction, “Kane & Abel.”

“Mr. Cohen continued. ‘The answer to your second question is that you have no personal or legal obligation to Mr. Henry Osborne. Under the term of your father’s will, your mother is a trustee of his estate along with a Mr. Alan Lloyd and a Mrs. Millie Preston, your surviving godparents, until you come of age at twenty-one.’"

I wonder why it is a Mr. Alan Lloyd and a Mrs. Millie Preston. Here Mr. Alan Lloyd and Mrs. Millie Preston are too obvious to both parties concerned, and different from the case of being told by your secretary, "A phone from a Mr. Smith Brown.”

What significance is added to by prefixing ‘a’ to the name in this particular case?

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2 Answers

up vote 22 down vote accepted

The indeterminate a here implies that the speaker - and probably the listener as well - do not actually know Mr. Alan Lloyd and Mrs. Millie Preston. They're just names on the will, not actual people they are familiar with. The use of the a here means that this person could be any Alan Lloyd out there, since there isn't a concrete person to refer to.

This is the same with the phone call situation. "A phone call from Mr. John Smith" is a specific John Smith that the receiver is assumed to be familiar with. "A phone call from a Mr. John Smith" is a call from a stranger who introduced himself as John Smith.

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As I commented on Barrier England’s answer, the lawyer Cohen may not have a direct or personal contact with Mr. Alan Lloyd and Mrs. Millie Preston, but he should have surveyed fully who they are as a legal advisor. On the other hand, William knew both of them very well as they are his godparents and very close friends of his mother, nee Anne Kane. Actually Mr. Lloyd tells Anne Kane that he as the chairman of William’s trustee bank carries out investment fifty- fifty basis: 50% on the bank’s advice and 50% following suggestion put forward by William himself. –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 24 '13 at 8:46
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When a name is preceded by the indefinite article in that way, it usually means that the person referred to is unknown to the participants in the conversation.

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That was my understanding. I don’t know how the lawyer Cohen was familiar with Mr. Alan Lloyd and Mrs. Millie Preston, but William Kane should have been familiar with who they are, as Mr. Alan Lloyd was the chairman of William’s trustee bequeathed by his father, and “always kept up to date to William on what they are doing with William’s trust income.” Beside both Mr. Lloyd and Mrs. Preston were very close friends of William’s mother, nee, Anne Kane and William’s godparents. With this connection, are they still a somebody to them? –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 23 '13 at 7:58
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@Yoichi Oishi. It depends on the speaker's purpose. The indefinite article can sometimes be used sarcastically in this way. –  Barrie England Jan 23 '13 at 8:04
    
Not only sarcastically, but also formally - the lawyer might be using the indefinite article to keep his tone neutral and not assume anything. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Jan 24 '13 at 9:33
    
@Avner Shahar-Kashtan. I think it's possible. –  Yoichi Oishi Jan 25 '13 at 11:49
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