I recently noticed that the honorific "The Honorable" is often followed by just a name ("The Honorable James Lloyd") rather than a noun ("The Honorable Judge James Lloyd"). That seemed fairly reasonable, as "The Honorable" is usually applied to specific classes of people, and we can drop out the noun without confusion.

But then I realized that this happens sometimes with other adjectives--take, for example, the television program The Wonderful John Acton. It seems strange to have the definite article there, because without the adjective, "The John Acton" just doesn't make sense.

Can anyone shed any light on the grammar behind this construction?

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    The adjective singles out John Action from other John Actons (real or unreal). If you are going to single John Acton out, then use the definite article, just as you would without an adjective, the John Acton.
    – pazzo
    Oct 6, 2014 at 16:39
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    @CarSmack: I can't really see that. Presumably no-one thinks the almighty Allah distinguishes that particular Allah from other Allahs who aren't almighty. Oct 6, 2014 at 16:48
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    @CarSmack: I've of course considered that explanation, but I agree with FumbleFingers: That just doesn't resonate with me. If it is "singling out" a particular individual, it's a really nonsensical way of doing so. "I'm going to visit John Acton. Which John Acton, you ask? The wonderful one!" I can't see that being what anyone is actually doing when they use this construction. Oct 6, 2014 at 17:06
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    @CarSmack: It's not a particularly unique special case. How about the landlocked Switzerland if we want to steer clear of religious issues? Oct 6, 2014 at 17:06
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    @JustinGreer - How about "I'm going to see the THE John Acton who lives on Canterbury lane?" That implies there are other John Actions who don't live on Canterbury lane. If you just say "I'm going to see John Action who lives on Canterbury Lane" you've left out a piece of information that is included in the other phrasing.
    – Eli
    Oct 6, 2014 at 18:32

3 Answers 3


The can be used with names. It usually indicates one's uniqueness. It is similar to a short form of the (one and only)...

"Hi, I'm Steven Colbert." "THE Steven Colbert?!?"

Also, to draw a similarity:

Meet Logan Square Driver, the Steven Colbert of the Safe Streets Movement.

Something more familiar, maybe:

  • The fabulous Bette Midler may appear on the FOX series, according to ...
  • So nice to see the beautiful Cindy Crawford and her good looking husband still looking great.
  • The Incredible Mr. Limpet is a 1964 American live-action/animated adventure film...
  • There are simply not enough good things I could say about the amazing David Copperfield and his wonderful show in Vegas.

There is no difference between the Honorable James Lloyd and the amazing David Copperfield. It's really not that unusual.


So far as Honourable is concerned, if you are talking about British titular convention, you need to bear in mind the different reasons people use Honourable.

All Members of Parliament have the right to be known as Honourable. So they are often referred to such as 'The Honourable Denis Skinner M.P.' In the House of Commons members refer to one another as 'The Honourable Member for name of constituency' e.g. 'The Honourable Member for Norwich North'. Individual members do not use the other members' surnames, only the Speaker (who presides) does that. Privy Councillors (people who have been appointed for life as members of Her Majesty's Council of State - such as Cabinet Ministers, former Cabinet Ministers etc, are known as Right Honourable). The abbreviations are Hon and Rt. Hon.

Many other people such as members of the House of Lords and senior members of the judiciary attract the titles Honourable and Right Honourable.

So far as ordinary circuit judges and judges of the Crown Court are concerned, however, they do not carry the appendage Honourable as part of their title. An ordinary Crown Court judge is simply known as Judge Fortescue, and is referred to that way in the press etc. But in court everyone addresses the judge as Your Honour, and refer to him as His Honour. And very formally, (such as in law reports) there will be references to His Honour Judge Fortescue.

See the attached: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judicial_titles_in_England_and_Wales

Whilst the above applies to England and Wales, there are very different naming conventions in Scotland.

The Wonderful John Acton attracts the definite article to distinguish him from all other John Actons. Use of the definite article indicates that there is only one. So it would make no sense to say The John Acton as there may be many of them. You could however say A certain John Acton telephoned and left a message, using the indefinite article to indicate that he was only one of many possible John Actons.


The general rule is "once The Honorable, always The Honorable."


The Honorable (oral address: Mr./Madam Ambassador) – U.S. Ambassadors by Americans. Typically U.S. Ambassadors are addressed as "Your Excellency" by non-US citizens outside the United States.

The John Acton would require an adj to set this John Acton apart from other John Actons.

The wonderful John Acton ...i.e., our John Acton.

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