According to this lesson about the articles in English, the basic rule is that you use the indefinite article (”a” or “an”) to talk about something that is not specific. When you say, “John lives in a house, and Jack lives in an apartment,” the house or apartment is not specific.
When you talk about something specific, you use the definite article (”the”). You say “The houses on Broadway Street are very expensive,” you refer to specific houses (they are the houses on Broadway Street).
These are the basic rules for the use of definite and indefinite articles. There are a few more rules.
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In this lesson, you will learn about using the indefinite and definite articles with occupations.
”A Doctor” or “The Doctor?”
The Indefinite Article with Occupations
Examine the following examples:
- Janet is a doctor.
- Dr. Ecks is a cardiologist.
- My father is a highschool teacher.
- Neil Armstrong was an astronaut on Apollo 11.
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As you can see, you must use the indefinite article when you talk about someone’s occupation (a doctor, a cardiologist, a highschool teacher, an astronaut). In many languages, you do not use any article, but in English you must use it.
The Definite Article with Occupations
When you talk about a specific person's occupation, you must use the definite article “the.” Examine the following examples:
- I have two doctors, but Janet is the doctor I like best.
- Is Dr. Ecks the cardiologist taking care of you?
- Neil Armstrong was the astronaut on Apollo 11 who became the first person to walk on the Moon.
In the first sentence, you are not just saying that Janet is a doctor. She is a specific doctor (the one I like best). Similarly, Dr. Ecks is not just a cardiologist. He is the cardiologist taking care of someone.
No Article with Titles
Many words for an occupation can also be used as a title before someone’s last name. In this situation, do not use any articles.
Notice how the first part of each example below uses an occupation as a title and has no article, but the second part uses “a,” “an,” or “the:”
This is President Biden. He is the president of the United States.
This is Mayor Johnson. She is the mayor of this city.
This is Director Tom Paris. He is a movie director.
This is Principal Lee. He is the principal of this high school.
No Article with Descriptions or Identity
In some cases, you can use a people’s occupations in front of their names to describe or identify them. See the examples below:
Writer J.K. Rowling created the Harry Potter book series.
Dancer Misha Petrov is very talented dancer. (But you say, “Misha Petrov is a very talented dancer.)
Painter Vincent van Gogh created beautiful paintings. (But you say, “Vincent van Gogh was a great painter.
Composer Ludwig van Beethoven was German. (But you say, “Beethoven was a German composer.)
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Using indefinite articles (”a,” “an”)
Are you a doctor or a dentist? — Neither. I’m a nurse dentist.
My father is an architect, and my mother is an engineer.
Professor Ecks is an English professor. He’s also a writer.
Albert Einstein was a scientist.
Tom Hanks is an actor.
Using the definite article (”the”)
Who is the cardiologist at this hospital? — Today, it’s Dr. Ecks.
My father is the architect who designed that building.
Albert Einstein is the scientist who developed the theory of relativity.
The actor in Forest Gump and Cast Away is Tom Hanks.
No Article before a title or identity
In the examples below, the occupation is used both as a title and simply as an occupation.
Chef Anderson is a famous chef on TV.
Is Captain Davis in the army? — No, he’s an air force captain.
Judge Ramirez is the judge in this court.
Is Detective Nguyen a police detective or a private detective?
In the examples below, the occupation is used before a name to describe or identify a person as someone in that profession.
Singer Beyoncé has a new album.
Athlete Serena Williams has won many tennis championships.
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright designed innovative buildings.
Designer Coco was famous in the fashion industry.
Photographer Ansel Adams is a famous American photographer.
Musician Shawn Baldwin is a talented singer and songwriter.
Filmmaker Steven Spielberg is a famous movie director all over the world.
A very special case
”I need to see the dentist”
In some situations, using the definite or indefinite article is correct. For example, you can say, “I need to see a dentist,” when you talk about a dentist in general. You can also say, “I need to see the dentist,” because that is the professional you see when you need a check-up or when you have a toothache.
I need to see a dentist.
I need to see the dentist.
We need to call a plumber.
We need to call the plumber.
I don’t feel good. I need to go to a doctor.
I don’t feel good. I need to go to the doctor.
The difference is very small. In colloquial American English (the spoken language you use everyday), people generally use “the” in these situations when a certain professional is always the person you always call or see.
Practice 1. Practice using definite and indefinite articles with common occupations.