I'm not sure whether this is the right forum to post my question. In my job I frequently come across instances where the article in front of a common noun used for a person is omitted.

Example: Defendant denied his involvement.

as opposed to: The Defendant denied his involvement.

As it is used so often, and done in text of "trustworthy" sources, it obviously seems to be correct, but I wonder whether this phenomenon is a specialty of/limited to legal language and where it originates. Is this phenomenon limited to written language or also present in spoken English? I still find it very funny and always have the feeling that it is wrong... - how do native speakers perceive this omission? And are there any rules as to when the article may be omitted in this way? Usually, authors are not consistent in omitting the article, sometimes they use it, sometimes they don't.

I would be very thankful if somebody could scatter some light on this.


2 Answers 2


In any legal action, terms such as defendant, plaintiff, complainant, petitioner designate specific roles in the action. In pleadings—formal documents arising in the course of the action—the persons playing those roles are identified by name in a conventionally formatted block of text at the beginning of the document; thereafter they are referred to by role rather than name.

Since in these documents persons do not have to be distinguished from persons playing the same roles in other actions, it has for many generations been the convention to use the terms without any determiner. They are in effect names—or perhaps pronouns! And this convention is often adopted by third parties such as journalists when they discuss the action: it lends the discussion a sense of expertise and sophistication.


Guessing but I would say the most likely explanation for the omission of the definite article is purely one of economy.

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