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Why are "the" sometimes used with non restrictive appositive. For example:

Kate, the well-known actress, has gone to Italy.

"The well-known actress" is additional information, so I supposse It has to be" Kate, a well known actress, has gone to Italy.

  • Neither of them is an appositive NP. Only a specifying NP can be an appositive. But the indefinite "a well-known actress" and the definite "the well-known actress" are ascriptive NPs since neither of them specifies who "Kate" is: instead they merely denote a property that can be ascribed to Kate. They would be analysed as supplements and both are fine, but neither of them is an appositive. – BillJ Jul 30 '17 at 13:22
  • @BillJ According to M-W, apposition has one definition '1 a : a grammatical construction in which two usually adjacent nouns [sic] having the same referent stand in the same syntactical relation to the rest of a sentence (such as the poet and Burns in “a biography of the poet Burns”)'. A contrasting definition from CGEL for instance is required for fidelity (to show balance). – Edwin Ashworth Jul 30 '17 at 13:33
  • "Burns" is a specifying NP and hence qualifies as an appositive. – BillJ Jul 30 '17 at 13:38
  • @BillJ Ignore the example; the definition (which I'm not claiming is the best or even widely accepted as it stands) allows any two noun groups with the same referent to be classed as appositives in such constructions. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 30 '17 at 14:42
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You can use either 'a well known actress' or 'the well known actress' after 'Kate'. The difference is the normal one between using an indefinite or definite noun phrase: if you think your reader can identify which well known actress you're talking about, you probably want to use the definite noun phrase. Note that giving a first name is not necessarily enough information for the reader to clearly identify which actress you're talking about. Even if I give both first and last name, my use of an indefinite or definite noun phrase will generally be chosen by whether I think my readers can identify who I am taking about.

For example, if I say

Kate Winslet, the well-known actress, has gone to Italy.

I probably expect that my readers can identify who Kate Winslet is. That is, I think they know who she is.

Another possibility is that, yes, by using the definite noun phrase, I am including my readers among the group of people who know who Kate Winslet is–even if this is not necessarily the case. Perhaps I will further inform them in the next sentences. Or perhaps that's all the identification I choose to make.

If I write

Kate Winslet, a well-known actress, has gone to Italy.

it is probably the case that I don't think my audience (my readers) can identify who Kate Winslet is, beyond the fact that she is well known as an actress to me or to other people, but not to my readers.

My audience here could be people who have no knowledge of any actresses. Perhaps I'm writing to people in the the Amazon who have never heard of movies or actresses.


(Excursis: The use of definite noun phrases and indefinite noun phrases can be very subtle, and they give a writer tools to create with. They don't always follow some easy or binary meaning that learners think or hope they do–language is not logic. The best way is to try to grasp the fundamental usage of definite and indefinite noun phrases and expect them to be used in many subtle ways that will take you a long time to master–that's just the way it is.)

  • Fine answer. I should have read this before looking for dupes; I would have tried to bury rather than unearth any such. – Edwin Ashworth Jul 30 '17 at 13:27
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    But neither of them meets the OP's criteria of being an appositive NP. – BillJ Jul 30 '17 at 13:27

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