In a closed question to a related topic on this forum, the following was suggested as an answer:

"Another is to use a proper noun as an example of particular traits that could also be held by others (a type of synecdoche). "The next Bob Dylan" (a singer-songwriter from the folk scene who will repeat Dylan's success), "He's an Einstein" (he's very smart), "All Mozarts have their Salieris" (not really true even for Mozart and Salieri, but let's say we believed the film Amadeus was accurate)"

I just want to ask when to use a/an and when to use the in the above-mentioned context (of using articles before proper nouns of person). Do an Einstein and the Einstein mean two different things?

  • Good question, actually. I’d say in general, the definiteness is governed by the same rules as normal definiteness, but that may not always be the case. In this case it works fine, though; if you replace Einstein with genius, you get similar results: “He’s a genius” is just a description of him, whereas “He’s the genius” takes for granted the existence of a particular genius and identifies him with it (“How would I know? He’s the genius, not me!”, i.e., ‘he’s the one who’s a genius’). Jul 30, 2019 at 8:11
  • If you're using a proper noun attributively (as an adjective), then the use of the indefinite or definite article should be no different than when applied to any other noun. Jul 30, 2019 at 17:35


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