Sometimes we name what we want to talk about with letters: person S, belief p, intention N. Should we use any article for them? Definite names are never used with articles. For me the ambiguity here is on whether something named with a letter is a definite name so that it doesn't need any article neither in the first usage nor in the subsequent ones.


Suppose, for instance, that person S forms belief p.


Suppose, for instance, that the person S forms the belief p.


Suppose, for instance, that a person S forms a belief p.

What about the subsequent usages?

  • We have a canonical question on this point. Could you edit this question to say how that one doesn't answer it? Currently it's liable to be marked as a duplicate. – Andrew Leach Dec 27 '16 at 10:05
  • When a person involved in a legal case is called by an initial to protect their privacy, an article is not used. A phrase such as 'Child B' is substituted for the name. I'm not sure in what other context you would use such letters. – Kate Bunting Dec 27 '16 at 10:06
  • The question is now edited. – Sasan Dec 27 '16 at 13:32

The letter (or type/letter pair such as person X, belief Y) is a stand in for a name, similar to how an algebraic variable is a stand in for a number. When reading the sentence, mentally replace the letter (or pair) with an actual name - clearly, it would not be appropriate to use "the" or "a" preceding it.

As with a name, you may want to mention that S is a person and then add that his/her name is S, but in that case you would use a comma:

Suppose, for instance, that the person, S, ...

That is valid, if a bit verbose and prose-like for what seems like a technical argument favoring succinctness.

  • It is not always "clearly incorrect" to use an article with a name; this question was asked by one Jooya, and answered by the incomparable GetzelR. – TimLymington May 24 '17 at 22:09
  • I didn't say it was always incorrect - I was addressing the scenario presented. For my edification, can you provide a scenario where it would be correct to use an article with a hypothetical named entity as in the question? – GetzelR May 24 '17 at 23:13
  • Aaah... It took me a second, but I see what you did there. As I say, while scenarios do exist for using an article before a name they do not apply in the case presented. Neither of the scenarios/justifications for using an article that you use as examples would be relevant for a hypothetical named entity. – GetzelR May 24 '17 at 23:25

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