Military titles and AP Style

Since today is Memorial Day, a U.S. holiday commemorating soldiers who died in the line of duty, we’ll be discussing military titles and their abbreviations.

The Associated Press Stylebook lists rules to follow when referring to military titles.

1. Capitalize a military rank when written before a person’s name. (This is the general rule for titles. That’s why you see “President Barack Obama” with a capitalized letter p.)

2. On first reference, place the title before the person’s full name.

3. On subsequent references, only refer to the person’s last name. (This is also a general rule when dealing with titles.)

4. Ranks written separate from a person’s name should be lowercased.

Whether you spell out the entire military title or use an abbreviation depends on the title.

Title name / Rank Usage before name
Commissioned Officers  
general Gen.
lieutenant general Lt. Gen.
major general Maj. Gen.
brigadier general Brig. Gen.
colonel Col.
lieutenant colonel Lt. Col.
major Maj.
captain Capt.
first lieutenant 1st. Lt.
second lieutenant 2nd. Lt.
Warrant Officers  
Warrant officer Warrant Officer
Chief warrant officer two Chief Warrant Officer 2
Chief warrant officer three Chief Warrant Officer 3
Chief warrant officer four Chief Warrant Officer 4
Chief warrant officer five Chief Warrant Officer 5
Enlisted Personnel  
sergeant major of the Army Sgt. Maj. of the Army
command sergeant major Command Sgt. Maj.
sergeant major Sgt. Maj.
first sergeant 1st Sgt.
master sergeant Master Sgt.
sergeant first class Sgt. 1st Class
staff sergeant Staff Sgt.
sergeant Sgt.
corporal Cpl.
specialist Spc.
private first class Pfc.
private Pvt.
Navy, Coast Guard  
Commissioned Officers  
admiral Adm.
vice admiral Vice Adm.
rear admiral upper half Rear Adm.
rear admiral lower half Rear Adm.
captain Capt.
commander Cmdr.
lieutenant commander Lt. Cmdr.
lieutenant Lt.
lieutenant junior grade Lt. j.g.
ensign Ensign
Warrant Officers  
chief warrant officer Chief Warrant Officer
Enlisted Personnel  
master chief petty officer of the Navy Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy
master chief petty officer Master Chief Petty Officer
senior chief petty officer Senior Chief Petty Officer
chief petty officer Chief Petty Officer
petty officer first class Petty Officer 1st Class
petty officer second class Petty Officer 2nd Class
petty officer third class Petty Officer 3rd Class
seaman Seaman
seaman apprentice Seaman Apprentice
seaman recruit Seaman Recruit
Marine Corps  
Commissioned Officers: Ranks and abbreviations are same as for Army.  
Warrant Officers: Ratings are same as for Navy.  
sergeant major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps
sergeant major Sgt. Maj.
master gunnery sergeant Master Gunnery Sgt.
first sergeant 1st Sgt.
master sergeant Master Sgt.
gunnery sergeant Gunnery Sgt.
corporal Cpl.
lance corporal Lance Cpl.
private first class Pfc.
private Pvt.
Air Force  
Commissioned Officers: Ranks and abbreviations are same as for Army.  
Enlisted Designations  
chief master sergeant of the Air Force Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force
chief master sergeant Chief Master Sgt.
senior master sergeant Senior Master Sgt.
master sergeant Master Sgt.
technical sergeant Tech. Sgt.
staff sergeant Staff Sgt.
senior airman Senior Airman
airman first class Airman 1st Class
airman Airman
Airman basic Airman

12 thoughts on “Military titles and AP Style

  1. I was in the Navy, here are the actually abbreviations used, at least as far as mailing and official documentation is concerned. These are just for the enlisted ranks of course, as your commissioned ranks are correct. Use formal rank abbreviations for official documentation, less formal ones for personal correspondence.

    master chief petty officer of the Navy MCPON
    master chief petty officer MCPO or MC ( latter is less formal )
    senior chief petty officer SCPO or SC ( latter is less formal )
    chief petty officer CPO
    petty officer first class PO-1/PO1
    petty officer second class PO-2/PO2
    petty officer third class PO-3/PO3
    seaman SN
    seaman apprentice SA
    seaman recruit SR

    • So while you are correct for military writing style, Associated Press style, as you see here, differs and is used by the media for consistency.

  2. Hi – Thank you for your blog. However, I just wanted to put forth that the above statement “Marine Corps – Commissioned Officers: Ranks and abbreviations are same as for Army” is *not* correct. In fact, the Marine Corps does abbreviate their ranks differently from the Army. For example, the USMC abbreviation for “Lieutenant Colonel” is LtCol (no periods, no spaces). “Brigadier General” in the Marine Corps is BGen. I am a professional corporate writer currently working closely with Marines, so I have had to familiarize myself with their abbreviations and acronyms. I also have verified this information with several other protocol sources. I know quite a few Marines that would bristle at not only having their abbreviated ranks presented incorrectly, but also being compared to the US Army! (Navy maybe, but definitely not Army! 🙂 Regards, Mary

  3. The AP style guide for military rank is absolutely incorrect. Military ranks are formal, specified, and grammar nazis simply don’t get a vote on how they are written. The US Army has a formalized specification for stating ranks, and not using them is not only disrespectful, but exposes one as being ignorant. Army ranks are as follows: Private – PVT, Private 2nd Class – PV2, Specialist – SPC, Sergeant – SGT, Staff Sergeant – SSG, Sergeant First Class – SFC, Master Sergeant – MSG, Sergeant Major – SGM, Command Sergeant Major – CSM, 2nd Lieutenant – 2LT, 1st Lieutenant – 1LT, Captain – CPT, Major – MAJ, Lieutenant Colonel – LTC, Colonel – COL, Brigadier General – BG, Major General – MG, Lieutenant General – LTG, General – GEN. The Warrant Officer ranks are correct as stated in the article.

    • AP style is for newspapers. What is suitable for military usage may not always be suitable for printed publications. (For example, too many all-caps acronyms on a page don’t look too good in print.) It’s a matter of style, not ignorance.

    • Sir,

      You are wrong, sort of. I am an Army public affairs NCO. For a news story/press release all services use AP Style. If you are writing something for internal publication you go by your services style.

  4. making up a sign the names and rank are on a small sign below to start with the Colonel
    COL or Col ?? From what I have read COL is the choice.

  5. Your article needs some significant revising, as others have suggested. Every service does their abbreviations differently, specifically capitalization and use of spaces…that’s how you know that CPT is an Army O-3, whereas CAPT is a Navy O-6, whereas Capt is either an Air Force or Marine Corps O-3.

    As an Army captain, I would be pissed if you referred to me as Capt. Smith. Its CPT Smith.

    Just look at Wikipedia.

    • AP Style does not want acronyms splattered everywhere on a page. What is suitable for military usage may not always be suitable for printed publications. (For example, “US CJTF-OIR officers CPT Wake, SFC Jones, and PV2 Rodriguez are MIA after an IED attack on an M1117 ASV” does not look good in print.)

      And the Associated Press Stylebook is a much better authority than “Wikipedia”….

  6. To all the chauvinists “outraged” by not using capital letter acronyms, even the Department of Defense itself uses AP Style abbreviations in news releases….. Let that sink in

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