I am not a native English speaker, but I've been studying English for a couple of decades now... And recently I decided to read "For Whom the Bell Tolls". I know that in this book Hemingway writes in a different way, trying to mimic Spanish grammar in English. But in Chapter 19, one Spanish character (Pablo) says:

"But I believe that the Pilar can divine events (...)"

So Hemingway used the definite article before someone's name. But as far as I know this is not how one would speak in Spanish: "Pero yo creo que Pilar puede adivinar (...)". There is no definite article there, and it doesn't seem to be something that one would do in English either. It only sounds natural to me in Portuguese: "Creio que a Pilar pode adivinhar (...)" -- the "a" before Pilar is the definite article in Portuguese. And even in Portuguese, it would be perfectly normal to ommit the article.

So, what is it that I did not get? Is it acceptable to use "the" before someone's name in English? (I have never seen that before)

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    Do you live in the US? Have you ever heard someone say "the Donald"?
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:49
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    Hemmingway called his boat Pilar. Someone wrote this paper titled [Can’t You Hear He Speaks Spanish? The Theme of Language in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls](chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/lib.ugent.be/fulltxt/RUG01/002/212/963/…) wherein on page 57 he specifically addresses the usages the Pilar and the Anselmo, saying These phrases seem faulty in English, but they create an impression of the Spanish language. Moreover, they suggest the guerrilleros’ respect for one another and their noble character. Sep 2, 2016 at 11:55
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    Try Chapter 31 where 4 out 8 Pilars are the Pilar. My guess is that her full given name was something like María del Pilar and Hemingway uses the Pilar as a play on this when emphasising the oracle nature of her statements.
    – Henry
    Sep 2, 2016 at 11:58
  • I see... It just didn't sound like natural in Spanish to me (my native language is Portuguese, and I have been to Spanish-speaking countries quite often). I know that in Latin languages the definite article can be used before a proper noun, but in that phrase it did sound a little strange. But after reading your comments it begins to make more sense -- thank you! And the book really is an impressive work!
    – Jay
    Sep 2, 2016 at 12:03
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    Some dialects and registers of Spanish do indeed do the same thing as Portuguese does here but it is considered quite informal. This corresponds to using that in English, as in that George. It dates from proto-Romance with Latin demonstratives. This might be a good question for Spanish Language and you are of course always welcome on Portuguese Language.
    – tchrist
    Sep 3, 2016 at 2:51

1 Answer 1


"...the Pilar..." sounds perfectly Spanglish to me. It's common in Spanish to use the definite article when referring to famous people (women especially). This usage is also used affectionately/satirically about friends and family who may be acting haughtily/grandly...

In the Spanish link below, the example is given of a political candidate whose full name is Perú Inga Zapata. She is referred to in discussions/the press as 'La Perú'. In the banner newspaper headline - "Y como esta La Perú" ("And How Is Peru") - readers' attention is grabbed because Peru, the country, is masculine (El Perú).

The English link also suggests how English achieves a similar affect.



  • 2
    You might want to add that it is more common among the less educated classes. Sep 2, 2016 at 12:11
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    Ah -- that's it. I have heard womens' names without "La" too often, maybe (it seems that it's more usual to not include the article). The second link that you included mentions that "Colocar artículos definidos (la y el) delante de los nombres propios suele ser característico en determinados ambientes o estilos y tienen, generalmente, un valor expresivo o más bien afectivo" -- that's perfect. Thank you!
    – Jay
    Sep 2, 2016 at 12:23
  • I don't think there has to be any hauteur to use the definite article with a person's name. But there is a great place to check -- spanish.stackexchange.com Sep 4, 2016 at 1:29

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