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Can I use the article the with the idiom “man of many talents” if I want to emphasise that it refers to just a specific person and not speaking generally? For instance: “You’re the man of many talents” not just a man among other men but THE MAN!

So, briefly, can articles or grammatical patterns be changed when we need or simply want to emphasise or single out something in particular?

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    People do sometimes say things like that, but it always sounds a little odd to me. "You're the man of the moment" and "You're the man!" are more common. OT: you might like to know the idiom "man of many parts", see Farlex. Dec 14, 2023 at 19:21
  • 'You're the man' is a fixed phrase, but using the definite article as an intensifier (when it's often pronounced 'thee') needs care. It sounds faintly ridiculous if say other multi-talented men haven't been mentioned already. Dec 14, 2023 at 21:13
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    I could be used to mean "You're the man of many talents (I've heard about/they told me about.)" In other words, one specific fellow in a group.
    – DjinTonic
    Jan 13 at 20:37
  • This would be the same in Italian.
    – Lambie
    Mar 9 at 22:52

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The standard article to use in front of "man of many talents"—is "a" rather than "the": "You are a man of many talents." Using "the" to introduce an otherwise widely applicable term such as "man of many talents" suggests a degree of exclusivity that is probably not objectively justifiable. That doesn't mean you can't do it, but it does mean that the expression is likely to sound odd to your hearers.

This is not the case with every "the" phrase that might apply to more than one person. For example, it wouldn't sound especially odd to say to an unusually intelligent and well-informed acquaintance, "You're the man who knows everything." In contrast, it would sound very odd to say, for example, "You're the very intelligent and well-informed man." But why does the first sentence sound normal, and why does the second one sound weird?

The difference, I think, lies in how the hearer makes sense of the assertion. To me, "the man who knows everything" sounds as though it is identifying a unique individual—like "the man in the moon" or "the most interesting man in the world" or "the man who was Thursday"—even though theoretically more than one man could know everything, and even though practically no man does. The implicit exaggeration of the characterization takes the status so far out of the ordinary that the hearer can imagine that it applies to only one person in the world.

In contrast, "the very intelligent and well-informed man" lays a claim to singular possession of a category ("very intelligent and well-informed") that obviously includes multiple people. It is not unheard of for a person who belongs to a large group of people who qualify for a certain status to become known as "the" person with that qualification—"the man from Illinois," "the maid of sorrows," "the autocrat of the breakfast-table"—but such cases are rare.

Another category of relevant "the" identities consists of implicit comparisons. For example, "You are the boy who cried wolf" is just a compressed way of saying "You are like the boy who cried wolf in Aesop's fable." If there were a well-established figure in popular culture known as "the man of many talents," you could apply the term to someone else, and the compliment might not sound strange to a hearer who interpreted it as an implicit comparison. But there isn't such a figure in the case of "man of many talents," as far as I know.


'The man of many talents' as an archetype

Ultimately, whether "the" sounds right in a phrase used to describe a particular person depends on the uniqueness of the characteristic and the idiomatic familiarity of the expression. Unlike "the man in the street" (for example), "the man of many talents" is not widely used idiomatically to describe an archetype. Nevertheless, it does occasionally appear idiomatically. For example, from Hugh Black, Work (1904):

It is always the temptation of the man of the one talent to hide it in the earth. The special temptation of the man of many talents is to misuse them, to spend them on himself, or to be proud of his capacity, and grow arrogant and selfish.

From James McCleary, "Address Delivered at Joint Dinner of National Council for Industrial Safety and Association of Iron and Steel Engineers" (September 24, 1913) in Second Safety Congress of the National Council for Industrial Safety (1913):

Equality of opportunity means that the man of one talent and the man of many talents should each have a fair opportunity to do the most and the best of which he is capable and secure the fair reward therefor. (Applause.)

...

This is the lesson which this beloved country of ours must take to heart. It must continue to keep wide open for everyone, for the man of one talent and for the man of many talents, the golden gate of opportunity. Fair treatment for great and small, for rich and poor, for corporation and individual man, must be the rule of law.

From "Things to Think About," in Co-operation: A Magazine of Economic Progress (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hnphtr&seq=1064&q1=%22the+man+of+many+talents%22) (October 1913):

Talents and capacities vary greatly, but it is just as possible for the man of a single talent to do as commendable work as the man of many talents.

In these instances, it seems significant that "the man of many talents" appears in tandem with "the man of [the] one talent" as contrasting archetypes. Neither wording is common today.

In the Black example above and perhaps also in the McCleary example, the phrase "the man of many talents" alludes to the Biblical parable of the talents (where talents refers to monetary units). A more explicit instance of this usage appears in Martha Tarbell, Tarbell's Teachers' Guide to the International Sunday School Lessons for 1910 (1910) includes the following instance:

  1. Is it more often the man of many talents or the man of few talents who neglects to use them?

The notion of talents as abilities is very strong in the first three cited examples above as well, however, and the phrase makes sense in each case even if we omit consideration of the parable from our interpretation.


'The man of many talents' as a reference to someone well known

Having noted multiple difficulties with using the wording "the man of many talents" to describe a particular person, I should point out three cases where a writer uses the expression in what appears to be very similar the way that poster wants to use it. From an untitled item in To-Day (December 3, 1898):

The production does more credit to the theatre than to authors or artistes, and for this I am sorry, as I count myself among the admirers of Mr. [Robert] Buchanan, the man of many talents.

From"Men of Affairs," in The Taylor-Triotwood Magazine (August 1907):

"The man of many talents" is a descriptive phrase often applied to Samuel Untermyer, whose fight for the International Policyholders' Committee in the recent insurance strife will go down in history as a campaign of utter fearlessness and straight-from-the-shoulder shots. It is this aggressiveness and persistent pushing home of; his points that has made Mr. Untermyer the leading trial lawyer in New York, and has given him such a reputation for handling difficult cases that he is compelled to turn away three times as many cases as he accepts.

And from a caption accompanying a sketch of John Uri Lloyd in Bulletin of Pharmacy (May 1912):

John Uri Lloyd—The Man of Many Talents. Pharmacist, Chemist, Investigator, Teacher, Historian, Thinker, Library-builder, Civic-reformer, and Writer—author of the "String-town" tales, "Etidorhpsa," and novels, scientific papers, dispensatories, and historical bulletins without number.

In each of these three examples, "the man of many talents" is attached to a particular person in an admiring way without any indication that the phrase is invoking any other well-known or well-established individual or that it is drawing a contrast between the specified person and some other archetypal person.

In each of these cases, though, I get the impression that the writer intends the phrase to mean something like "the well-known man of many talents," since all three instances involve people who (within an admittedly smallish public sphere) are celebrated for their multiple abilities. At a minimum, you can add "well-known" between "the" and "man" and not harm the sense of the sentence.

Unless the poster of the original question can reasonably say to the person he is addressing, "You are the well-known man of many talents," it seems to me that his situation does not closely match the three that I have just cited. Under those circumstances, "You are a man of many talents" is clearly idiomatically preferable to "You are the man of many talents."

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I'd say nah you can't cos it sounds wrong BUT... if you are saying it and put emphasis on the word 'the' or you put the word 'the' in capitals like you did it works because it shows you are doing it on purpose, not as a grammar mistake lol

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    – Community Bot
    Feb 15 at 20:54
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The phrase is "a man of many talents," not simply "man of many talents." This is known as a set-phrase, and is meant to be written or spoken verbatim.

I'm not finding much in the way of authoritative definitions, so this is entirely based on my personal experience. A cursory online search yields unsatisfying results for a definition, but has lots of example usages.

While "the man" and "a man" are perfectly valid grammatically (see Cambridge dictionary), it is not consistent with how this phrase is typically used, at least in .

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    It's a set phrase, not an idiom - the phrase means nothing more than the normal dictionary definitions of each word individually. Idioms carry additional meaning. Feb 15 at 21:27
  • @NuclearHoagie, sorry about that. I'll update my answer. Feb 15 at 21:33
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Yes, "the man of man talents" can be used to describe such a man in the abstract, generally. "You are the man of many talents" could be paraphrased "You're the proverbial man of many talents".

See here starting around @00:35 seconds.

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Yes, you can indeed use the definite article "the" with the idiom "man of many talents" to emphasize that you are referring to a specific person and not just any man. Adding "the" in this context helps to specify and single out a particular individual as opposed to using the indefinite article "a" which would suggest any man among others.

For instance: "You're the man of many talents."

Using articles or adjusting grammatical patterns to emphasize or single out something specific is a common and effective language tool. It helps convey nuances and shades of meaning in your expression.

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There is no way to do that by just using the definite article. "The" in such a context will be either generic or will be serve to identify.

To single out something in particular is possible by using "the" if it is stressed. This is extended to proper nouns

(CGEL p. 371) The definite article is generally unstressed in connected speech. Stressed use of the definite article, in the form /ði:/, is highly unusual, but is found with proper names in examples like "Was it THE Bill Gates that he was talking about"? […], or with common nouns, as in "Is that THE book you’re looking for"? (where I am seeking confirmation that the entity concerned is indeed the unique book that you’re looking for).

In the case under consideration it would be necessary that that person should have been previously called "the man of many talents", but the meaning would not be "the man of talent par excellence" or the epitome of what a man of talent could be—as suggests "“You’re the man of many talents” not just a man among other men but THE MAN!"—, and instead it would mean "that person that has been known to us for some time as "the man of many talents", not any other, nor the generic one.

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  • Using "the" could also imply that they're the only man of many talents (like "I'm the king of the world!"). But that's an unlikely situation.
    – Barmar
    Dec 19, 2023 at 20:15
  • In the case under consideration it would be necessary that that person should have been previously called "the man of many talents" Not so. "NPs modified by "the" can be followed by a defining clause or phrase, e.g. A: "Smith has mended the radio and treated John's snakebite. B: "Excellent! He is the man of many talents that this expedition required!"
    – Greybeard
    Jan 15 at 10:29
  • @Greybeard You can do that only for the simple reason that you use a postmodifier ("that this… required")—determinative use of the definite article, cataphoric reference; short of some such like addition you can only conclude to a generic use (which is here no usual choice: "He is a man of many talents." is usual), or given an anaphoric reference (the man known in that context to have many talents) to, again, the determinative use of the article, which is the OP's context.
    – LPH
    Jan 15 at 15:36
  • @LPH You can do that only for the simple reason... I am fully aware of that. The comment was against a generalisation that was a step too far and would have created further doubt in the OP's mind. "He is a man of many talents." is usual Saying something is "usual" is unhelpful - it all depends on context and intended meaning.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 16 at 11:08

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