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I am trying to write this sentence, but cannot decide if I should use a or the here:

It would be minutes before [a/the] slightly agitated Mrs. Smith finally finds him in the crowd.

If the should be used here, is there any scenario where a can be added before a specific person's name? I remember seeing such usage before, but my memory could be wrong.

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2 Answers 2

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Logically it seems as if it should be the.

But there is a well known literary device, perfectly idiomatic, which places the indefinite article in that position. One would use it where one was introducing for the first time, to the reader/listener that Mrs Smith was slightly agitated.

So if the reader is already aware that Mrs Smith is slightly agitated I would use the, if they do not I would use a.

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The choice of article seems to me to reflect a different emphasis. "a slightly agitated Mrs. Smith" means, "Mrs. Smith, a slightly agitated person," while "the agitated Mrs. Smith" means the agitated version of Mrs. Smith in contrast to her normally cool and collected self.

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  • Do you mean that "Mrs. Smith, a slightly agitated person," means that she is always a slightly agitated person?
    – user1425
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 11:29
  • "A slightly agitated Mrs Smith" does not imply she is always slightly agitated at all. Envisage a sentence "Having just had her handbag snatched, it was a slightly agitated Mrs Smith who approached the police officer". There is a very good reason why she is unusually agitated, but the indefinite article is perfectly idiomatic. However "Mrs Smith, a slightly agitated person..." suggests to me that that is her normal state.
    – WS2
    Commented May 3, 2020 at 22:20

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