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:

The church is home to Reverend James Boot.
The person in charge is Director Mary Fritz.

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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:

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 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. Janet Deetz is the chief executive officer.
3. Fred Turner, provost of the university, will give a speech.
4. Friday, bishop Frank Tots will visit.

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

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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9 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! 🙂

    Like

  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.

    Like

  3. “Reverend”, being an adjective, should be preceeded by “the”, e.g. “The Reverend Athanasius Molestrangler”. It should not, at least in the UK, be followed by surname alone. “The Reverend Molestrangler” is wrong, and “Reverend Molestrangler” doubly so. It is perfectly polite to refer to priests (if they are not also a bishop, arcdeacon, canon, etc) as “Mr/Mrs/Miss/Ms”, as, for example “Mr Collins”, the clergyman in ‘Pride and Prejudice’.

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    • Ms. Roof,

      As a history museum historian (retired) and book editor, I debate this subject every day with genealogists who consistently make this grammatical error with titles.

      ALL Titles are capitalized before AND aft of a proper name when it is a proper title. No exceptions. It is ONLY lower case if it is not being used as a proper name/title, when it is merely a description. Example:

      The word “queen” is not capitalized in “Elizabeth I was the queen of England” because it is not being used as her proper name, merely her job description. However, “queen” is absolutely to be capitalized in “Presenting Her Majesty Elizabeth I Queen of England, Ireland and France, Defender of the Faith, etc”.

      In the article above, it is misleading. A sentence example was given as:
      “Fred Turner, provost of the university, will give a speech.”
      This is correct, since “provost of the university” is merely a description, not part of his name; however, “provost” would most certainly be capitalized if written as a proper name title:
      “Fred Hunter, Provost of Harvard University”.

      Other examples:

      “Mayo Clinic has appointed Christina Zorn, J.D., as chief administrative officer of its campus in Jacksonville”
      vs. “This advice comes from Christina Zorn, J.D., Chief Campus Administrator, Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville)”

      “I heard a sermon by Cotton Mather, a pastor at a Boston church”
      vs. “I heard a sermon by Cotton Mather, Pastor of Old North Church in Boston.”

      Respectfully.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thank you for your comment. I should have been clearer when I wrote this post that I was using the guidelines from the Chicago Manual of Style, which is what I use in book editing. There are multiple styles with recommendations regarding capitalization, and writers should follow the one their organization prefers.

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