Is there a difference between these references to a specific person:

"The implication is clear: as the psychologist Jonathan Haidt said..."


"The implication is clear: as psychologist Jonathan Haidt said..."

The first one uses the definite article and is a quote from Daniel Kahneman's book 'Thinking, Fast and Slow', where the article is consistently used in such references. In the second one I've omitted the definite article. It seems more intuitive for me, a non-native speaker, and is something I would use in my own writing.

Are both expressions equally correct? Are there situations that require the article and vice versa?

  • 2
    I'd like to ask you to clarify your question: at first sight it may look like you are asking about basic article usage, which I don't think is your intention. However, I have seen the equivalent to your second example in texts by native speakers so one can't put it down to learner mistake. Although there is a definite change in the 'feel' of the sentence I can't really explain it, and since I am now curious as to what would make a native-speaker choose between one and the other, I'm up-voting your question. Jun 29, 2013 at 21:45
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    In this particular example, including the more strongly implies that the reader might feasibly already know who Jonathan Haidt is. To some extend, the writer is either reminding us that Haidt is in fact a psychologist, or distinguishing him from other people with the same name who aren't psychologists. I would characterise the two usages as equivalent to the psychologist, whose name is Jonathan Haidt and [a] psychologist... Jun 29, 2013 at 23:10
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    Classic Language Log post: "Renowned author Dan Brown..."
    – Mitch
    Dec 23, 2019 at 17:17

2 Answers 2


There's a Wikipedia article about this:

False title:

A false, coined, fake, bogus or pseudo-title, also called a Time-style adjective and an anarthrous nominal premodifier, is a kind of appositive phrase before a noun. It is said to formally resemble a title, in that it does not start with an article, but is a common noun phrase, not a title. An example is the phrase convicted bomber in "convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh".

Some usage writers condemn this construction, and others defend it. Its use was originally American, but it has become widely accepted in some other countries. In British usage it was generally confined to tabloid newspapers but has been making some headway on British websites in recent years.


In the description of a false title as an anarthrous nominal premodifier, "anarthrous" means "lacking an article", and "nominal" is used in the sense "of the nature of a noun". Other phrases for the usage include "pseudo title", "coined title" and "preposed appositive".

In "Professor Herbert Marcuse", "Professor" is a title, while in "famed New Left philosopher Herbert Marcuse", "famed New Left philosopher" has the same syntax, with the omitted at the beginning, but is not a title. The linguist Charles F. Meyer has stated that "pseudo-titles" differ from titles in providing a description rather than honoring the person (and that there are gray areas, such as "former Vice President Dan Quayle").


The practice occurs as early as the late 19th century, as in "The culmination of the episode at Sheepshead Bay last week between Trainer William Walden and Reporter Mayhew, of the Herald … seems to reflect little credit on Editor Bennett." Some authors state that the practice began in or was popularized by Time magazine. Like the example above, early examples in Time were capitalized: "Ruskin's famed friend, Painter Sir John Millais". However, now they are usually in lower case. The Chicago Manual of Style observes, "When a title is used in apposition before a personal name – that is, not alone and as part of the name but as an equivalent to it, usually preceded by the or by a modifier – it is considered not a title but rather a descriptive phrase and is therefore lowercased." Meyer has compared the International Corpus of English with an earlier study to document the spread of the construction from American newspapers to those of other countries in the last two decades of the 20th century. In particular, during that time it became even more common in New Zealand and the Philippines than in the United States. He predicts that it is unlikely to appear in conversation.

Meyer notes that "pseudo-titles" (as he calls them) rarely contain a modifying phrase after the initial noun phrase, that is, forms such as "MILF Vice Chairman for Political Affairs Al-Hajj Murad Ebrahim" for the head of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front are rare. Furthermore, they cannot begin with a genitive phrase; "Osias Baldivino, the bureau's litigation and prosecution division chief" cannot be changed to "bureau's litigation and prosecution division chief Osias Baldivino": "bureau's" would need to be removed. He also cites Randolph Quirk's principle of "end-weight", which says that weightier parts of sentences are better placed at the end of sentences or smaller structures. Thus pseudo-titles, which by definition go at the beginning, tend to be short. He notes that pseudo-titles in New Zealand and Philippine newspapers are much more likely to exceed five words than those in the United States and Britain.


Style guides and studies of language have differed strongly on whether the construction is correct:

Opposed to false titles

Theodore Bernstein, a usage writer, strongly deprecated these "coined titles". He gave an example of "a legitimate title ... combined with an illegitimate one" in "Ohio Supreme Court Judge and former trial lawyer James Garfield", which he said was an inversion of the normal "James Garfield, Ohio Supreme Court Judge and former trial lawyer" that gained nothing but awkwardness. He cited the usual lower-casing of these phrases as evidence that those who write them realize they are not true titles.

Roy Reed, a professor of journalism, has commented that such a sentence as, "This genteel look at New England life, with a formidable circulation of 1 million, warmly profiles Hartland Four Corners, Vt., resident George Seldes, 96," was "gibberish". He added that the phrase "right-wing spokesman Maj. Roberto D'Aubuisson" was ambiguous, as the reader could not tell whether D'Aubuisson was the single spokesman for the Salvadoran right wing or one of many. In addition to placing the descriptive phrase after the name, "where it belongs", Reed suggested that if the phrase goes before the name, it should begin with a or the. The usage writer Kenneth Bressler also recommended avoiding the construction and suggested additional ways of doing so.

The only prescriptive comment in The Columbia Guide to Standard English is that these constructions "can be tiresome." R. L. Trask, a linguist, used the phrase "preposed appositive" for constructions such as "the Harvard University paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould." In strong terms, he recommended including the initial the (and employing such constructions sparingly anyway).

Another linguist, Geoffrey Pullum, addressed the subject in comments on the first sentence of The Da Vinci Code, which begins, "Renowned curator Jacques Saunière...." Pullum says that a sentence beginning with an "anarthrous occupational nominal premodifier" is "reasonable" in a newspaper, and "It's not ungrammatical; it just has the wrong feel and style for a novel." Merriam Webster's Dictionary of English Usage agrees that the construction is "highly unlikely outside journalism". Likewise, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English classifies these constructions as "journalese". In 2012 Philip B. Corbett of The New York Times wrote, "We try to avoid the unnatural journalistic mannerism of the 'false title' – that is, using a description or job designation with someone's name as if it were a formal title. So we don't refer to 'novelist Zadie Smith' or 'cellist Yo-Yo Ma'." The 2015 edition of the paper's manual of style says:

Do not make titles out of mere descriptions, as in harpsichordist Dale S. Yagyonak. If in doubt, try the "good morning" test. If it is not possible to imagine saying, "Good morning, Harpsichordist Yagyonak," the title is false.

In favor of false titles

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage suggests that the reason for the construction is that it identifies a person concisely. It also says that, contrary to the claims of some critics, it is perfectly comprehensible. The usage pundit William Safire stated that the article "the" gives the title excessive emphasis and that it sounds strange to American speakers.

British usage

British style guides have in the past considered the construction not only journalese but an Americanism, or at least less "embedded" in British English. The style guides of the British daily newspaper The Guardian and the weekly journal The Economist both proscribe the use of the false title, but the BBC's guidelines for webpages, as of 2015, comment that use of the construction can avoid "unnecessary clutter", although in general the guide favors the traditional form, avoiding the false title.

[references omitted]

  • 1
    It's not clear what relevance your answer and the linked article have to the question. The question is not about 'False titles'. but about the presence or absence of the word "the".
    – TrevorD
    Jun 29, 2013 at 23:31
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    @TrevorD "false title" just one name for the construct in question in which the article is omitted, leaving something like "psychologist Jonathan Haidt" which looks like it's using the word "psychologist" as a title. In other words it's exactly what the question asked about. Your comment strongly suggests that you didn't even look at the article before criticizing me.
    – user46969
    Jun 29, 2013 at 23:38
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    I did look at the article, but I didn't immediately see anything relevant. If you were to clarify your answer to indicate why you think it's relevant - and which parts, then that would be more helpful. Personally, I don't agree that it's a 'false title' - it's being used as a description of his profession, with or without the "the", not as a title (which would in any event have an initial capital).
    – TrevorD
    Jun 29, 2013 at 23:50
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    We may be slightly at cross-purposes. When I suggested you clarify your answer, that was because the etiquette on this site is to not just provide links, but to quote and explain the relevant parts. Please see this Help page which expressly states that answers that are "barely more than a link to an external site" are not desired. The actual question was "Can the definite article be omitted when referring to a person qualified by a noun?" You have not provided an answer to that, but merely a link to a 'discussion' about it. Contd...
    – TrevorD
    Jun 30, 2013 at 0:12
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    @Wumpus Q. Wumbley: you completely missed the point. If all you post is a link to an external site, please write a short, 1 paragraph summary of the linked material, and if necessary an explanation why is it relevant. Jun 30, 2013 at 9:47

I've accessed the quote plus further context, and would say that there is very little difference between the two versions in this case. However, some similar constructions are more title- than job-spec-orientated:

"He was definitely dead as a result of the fall," said Doctor John Watson.

*"He was definitely dead as a result of the fall," said the doctor John Watson.

(unless this is referencing a particular doctor already specified, when a comma would be inserted after doctor)

But digging deeper, one seems to find little consistency:

"I was eating my egg sandwich," said pupil / teacher / classroom assistant Jack Watson.

"I was eating my egg sandwich," said (the) well-known amateur astronomer Patrick Lesse.

"I was eating my egg sandwich," said the well-known left back Anthony Dunne.

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