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I posted a question several days ago about the significance of using “a,” in the sentence of Jeffery Archer’s novel, “False Impression” - “General Harry Wentworth was commanding his left flank when a defeated Napoleon rode off the battle field and into exile.

Most of answers from you were “a”, not “the” was used to reflect one of various aspects of Napoleon’s character, which I think I was sold.

With that said, what is the role of a in the following sentence that appears in the subsequent chapter (P.59):

"When a Mr. Andrews, the butler at the Wentworth Hall, had rung the previous day to say that painting would be ready for collection in the morning, Ruth had scheduled one of her high-security air ride trucks to be at the hall by eight o’clock."

Is a necessary before Mr. Andrews in the above sentence? Or does it imply Andrews the butler is a member of the Andrews family known for serving the distinguished family of Earl of Wentworth for generations?

I’m asking this as I’m occupied with the significance and functions of article, because it is always a persistent headache for an English learner of a country devoid of the habit of using the article.

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After placing this question, I got a second thought. This is the statement made from the perspective of Ruth Parish, the shipping agent of art works. The sentence I quoted is meant that Ruth had a phone from "a" person called himself Andrews. The author didn’t use “a” for naught. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 3 '11 at 1:57
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This is a tough question. Gogo anyone who thinks they can explain this. However, I will say that THIS use of 'a' is both not necessary and not very common. –  Jeremy Oct 3 '11 at 1:59
    
+1 for "always a persistent headache for an English learner of a country devoid of the habit of using the article". In my case, Turkish language has no articles. As a professional translator, when translating from English to Turkish, for "the", I often use the Turkish equivalent of "that item which was just referred to", and for "a", "any". –  Sabuncu Jul 31 '13 at 15:32

2 Answers 2

It is pretty straightforward. The indefinite article here is used here to indicate that Mr. Andrews is not well known. If you said "Mr. Andrews called..." it would indicate that you and the hearer both knew who Mr. Andrews was. If you said "A Mr. Andrews called..." it would indicate that you did not know who Mr. Andrews was, all you know is that his name is "Mr. Andrews".

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My confusion started with a query why “a” is necessary when Andrews, the butler appeared several times on stage from the beginning of the story, being well-defined by the story teller and fully acquainted with by readers. The question hung up until I realized this passage is stated from the perspective of Ruth Perish, the shipping agent Andrews called for the first time, not from the story teller. To Ruth, Andrews was 'a' stranger. Then problem was solved. Thank a lot. –  Yoichi Oishi Oct 3 '11 at 4:38

It's not necessary but is used here to emphasize that you don't know the person and his name isn't important - he could be any Mr Andrews.

Similarly it's used insultingly to de-emphsize Napoleon. "when a defeated Napoleon rode off the battle", meaning that this was somebody unimportant who happened to be called Napoleon!

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You see the "a" as the same in both? That it's an insult to Napoleon? Really? Doesn't come across that way to me. It could also have said "when a victorious Napoleon rode off the battle field." –  Mark Oct 3 '11 at 7:26

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