I am a ESL learner, has been recently started doing some practice test of IESLTS. Here is a question I am confused about within a reading passage.

There had, of course, been dictionaries in the past, the first of these being a little book of some 120 pages, compiled by a certain Robert Cawdray, published in 1604 under the title A Table Alphabeticall 'of hard usuall English wordes'.

I am struggling with the words "certain" that author used here, I will be really grateful if someone help me figure out the question, or any of the ideas would give a lot of help.

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    Certain: Used when mentioning the name of someone not known to the reader or hearer. ‘a certain General Percy captured the town’ en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/certain – user66974 Mar 16 '17 at 15:51
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    So the word "certain" is used to point out a person in special way in this case? – Xinye Xu Mar 16 '17 at 15:53
  • @YosefBaskin If I understand you correctly, the certain is used to point out someone specifically, am I right? – Xinye Xu Mar 16 '17 at 15:55
  • @YosefBaskin OK... But to figure something out is also really delightful! Thank you sir! – Xinye Xu Mar 16 '17 at 16:00

The word certain is used here in a special way, like one particular Robert Cawdray rather than just Robert Cawdray. I might think you want an apple, but you reply "No, I don't want just any apple but a certain apple my grandma gave me. That apple."

In this case, there is no great need for the word except to challenge a non-native! The author is saying you don't know Cawdray but he is the one particular man who published the first dictionary even if you did not hear of him, as might be expected (Sorry, I do not recognize his name, either.)

In this use, certain does not mean definite: I am certain your name is Xu, not X.

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  • No... I am the one who need to thank you! For helping me figure out this question! – Xinye Xu Mar 16 '17 at 16:32
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    There is nothing special or specific about the person being mentioned. Saying "a certain Robert Cawdray" is the same as saying "someone named Robert Cawdray", – michael.hor257k Mar 16 '17 at 16:33
  • @m - Good point. So why does the author here add the word? I would expect it where a name is unusual and we might think, really, that is actually his name? – Yosef Baskin Mar 16 '17 at 16:36
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    It actually works in reverse. If I say "it was compiled by Robert Cawdray", you will ask yourself "should I know who this Robert Cawdray is?". By saying "it was compiled by a certain Robert Cawdray" I am saying you probably never heard of him and there is no good reason why you should have. – michael.hor257k Mar 16 '17 at 16:44
  • Adding 'a certain' before the name implies 'whether or not his name means anything to you'. Eg. from a secretary telling you about a caller/visitor, it usually means that they do not know him, but you might. – Bepe Mar 16 '17 at 17:03

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