When to capitalize titles

Lesson: when to capitalize civil, military, religious, and professional titles

Capitalizing a title depends on whether it comes before or after a person’s name or stands alone.

If the title comes before a name, capitalize it. Titles that are directly in front of names are, in effect, being used as part of the names and thus require the same capitalization.

Examples:

Once a comedian, he is now known as Senator Al Franken.
The church is home to Reverend James Boot.
The person in charge is Director Mary Fritz.

If the title comes after a name, lowercase it. Titles after names are not being used as part of the names and so do not require capitalization.

Examples:

Al Franken, senator from Minnesota, eats donuts.
The article was about James Boot, reverend for the local church.
Mary Fritz, director of marketing, makes a lot of money.

If the title stands alone, lowercase it. Likewise, because titles are not attached to names, they do not need to be capitalized.

Examples:

The senator is running for a second term.
The church is looking for a new reverend.
The director of marketing is Mary Fritz.

Remember: only capitalize a title if it comes directly before a name.

Quiz
Choose whether the title in italics should be capitalized. The answers are below.

1. The sergeant earned a medal.
2. The current leader is president Obama.
3. Janet Deetz is the chief executive officer.
4. Fred Turner, provost of the university, will give a speech.
5. Friday, bishop Frank Tots will visit.

Answers:
1. lowercase 2. capitalize 3. lowercase 4. lowercase 5. capitalize

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5 thoughts on “When to capitalize titles

  1. What if someone is being addressed by their title alone, in lieu of their name? Such as, “Welcome back, Captain. It’s good to see you again.” Or “Thank you, Reverend, for such an uplifting sermon.” I thought these were capitalized…or does it change, depending on the type of title? (military versus job position..?)

    Love your posts, thank you! 🙂

    • Becki,

      Thanks for picking up that I missed that point. If the title is replacing the name, as in “Welcome back, Captain,” then, yes, the title should be capitalized.

  2. At last,vindication.
    I had several discussions about this very topic during the editing of my first novel.
    I was convinced that the way you have presented the examples here were correct.
    When it became obvious that an impasse had been reached I dug out several examples from one of Terry Pratchett’s novels.
    I was allowed to retain ”my” version.
    A real joy to have stumbled across your blog.
    Thanks.

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