This question already has an answer here:

Please help me decide which of the following two sentences in correct:

  1. Twenty-year-old Thomas Smith has been running his own business for already 2 years.
  2. A twenty-year-old Thomas Smith has been running his own business for already 2 years.

It's the very first sentence that serves as a kind of introduction to the text. I personally consider the second sentence to be correct, because to my mind the indefinite article shows that this Thomas is one of many (by analogy with "there is a Mr. Smith wants to see you") Am I right?

marked as duplicate by FumbleFingers, tchrist, Andrew Leach Nov 15 '14 at 22:49

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • Word order: "...for two years already" OR "...already been running his business for two years". – Erik Kowal Nov 18 '14 at 23:23

"Twenty-year-old Thomas Smith has..."

Here you have already defined "Thomas Smith".

"Thomas Smith, who is twenty years old."

Unless you knew several "twenty-year-old Thomas Smiths", it would make no sense to use the indefinite article.

Then again, it would be current usage to say

"A Thomas Smith (a certain Thomas Smith) has been running that business...."


This is a normal use of an indefinite article to indicate the appearance of a new referent in a narrative. All subsequent articles determining that referent are definite. Note the effect of changing the to a (and vice versa, ad libitum) in the following:

  • A man stood on the corner.
    The man was wearing a sweatshirt.
    Unfortunately, that was all the man was wearing.

Thus the first use of Thomas Smith is indefinite (even if named, the name does not yet refer to anything); after that, coreferential uses of Thomas Smith are definite.

If an article is desired, either definite or indefinite articles may be used, even with proper names.
The article that applies in the introductory use is the indefinite one. But it's not required.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.