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According to my knowledge, the indefinite article 'a' must never be used before a proper noun. But I recently heard the English sentence: "Every civilian should be a Mahatma Gandhi to his society".

As per my knowledge, "Mahatma Gandhi" is a proper noun here and 'a' is the article.

Believing the speaker to have a good grasp of English, I now have this doubt: are there any occasions where it is proper to have an indefinite article before a proper noun?

Please advise me.

marked as duplicate by user66974, FumbleFingers, Chenmunka, choster, Hellion Oct 8 '14 at 18:15

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  • (1) Don't you mean 'According to my knowledge, the article 'a' must not be used before a proper noun'? (2) The word 'English' is a proper adjective here. It's capitalised in most registers. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 8 '14 at 11:10
  • Thanks a lot Edwin Ashworth for correcting my question. Please also correct if you find any errors in this comment. – Shashikanth Komandoor Oct 8 '14 at 12:24
  • Used in that context can Mahatma Gandhi be said to be a 'proper noun'? – WS2 Oct 8 '14 at 13:52

The 'rule' is as usual better termed a 'guideline'.

There are not uncommon occasions when there is not the usual definiteness attaching to the referent (actual thing being named by) a proper noun. Thus:

There's a London in Canada and eight Londons in the US.

There's a Jack Robinson who lives on our street.

We've just bought a Dyson.

As Jasper indicates, this includes metaphorical usages (which 'Dyson' arguably still is):

He's never going to be a Denis Law / He's no Denis Law.

  • Not to mention "the question was asked by one Shashikanth Komandor" which is sometimes "a Shashikanth". – TimLymington Oct 8 '14 at 12:10
  • Thanks Edwin Ashworth for giving me the answer. I got a good clarity over the usage of the articles in these occassions. – Shashikanth Komandoor Oct 8 '14 at 12:24

Mahatma Ghandi here refers to a person with his qualities. It does not literally mean Mahatma Ghandhi himself. In this case, the use of a is correct. Another example:

We cannot expect everyone to be a Gautama Buddha or a Jesus Christ.

  • Yes. Capital loss accompanies genericisation (google; hoover) but can be disrespectful, especially to real persons. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 8 '14 at 11:18
  • Thanks Jasper Loy for your reply. I am satisfied with the answer. – Shashikanth Komandoor Oct 8 '14 at 12:25

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