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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When to capitalize “sir” and “madam”

Yup, this guy became Sir Paul McCartney.

Yup, this guy became Sir Paul McCartney.

 

When are sir and madam (and the contraction ma’am) capitalized? The answer depends on how you use them.

When to capitalize
Sir and madam are capitalized:

  • when beginning a letter/email
  • as an honorific coming before a name

Example: Dear Sir or Madam, I am writing to inform you that you are related to a Nigerian prince.
Example: My aunt was lucky enough to see Sir Paul McCartney play in the 1960s.

Note, however, that when referring to a man who has been given the honorific sir (or a woman who has become a dame) without using their full name (when sir or dame stands alone), it is not capitalized.

Example: My aunt was lucky enough to see Sir Paul McCartney play in the 1960s, before he became sir.

When to lowercase
Lowercase sir and madam in cases other than starting a correspondence and as an honorific before a name. This most concerns people who are writing dialogue in creative writing.

Example: “Please sir, may I have some more smores?” the boy asked hungrily.
Example: “It was a pleasure to meet you, madam,” the gentleman said.

To sum up
Capitalize sir and madam (and ma’am and dame) when starting a letter/email and when it comes before a name as an honorific. Lowercase sir and madam in other cases.

Quiz
Choose whether to capitalize or lowercase the words in italics.

1. “Fancy seeing you here, ma’am,” Roger said as he held out his hand.
2. Did you see the new movie starring dame Judi Dench?
3. Dear sir or madam, I am writing in regard to my January 27th letter.
4. “You are so kind, sir,” said the young man.
5. Shelley felt old when people started calling her ma’am.

Answers:

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

Erin Servais is a freelance book editor with hundreds of titles under her proverbial belt. Learn why her clients keep coming back: dotanddashllc.com.

It’s all directional

Lesson: when to capitalize north, south, east, and west

We have to drive southwest to get to the zoo.
He’s going to the Southwest for a business meeting.

Why is the word southwest lowercased in the first sentence, but capitalized in the second sentence? When using north, south, east, and/or west (and variations) lowercase them when referring to directions and capitalize them when referring to regions.

In the first sentence, southwest is a direction, so it remains lowercased.
In the second sentence, Southwest is a region, so it gets capitalized.

Here are two more examples:
We’re driving west to search for gold.
Pam wants to live in the Midwest and start a farm.

Again, west is a direction, so it remains lowercased; and, Midwest is a region, so it gets capitalized.

With names of nations
Unless the direction is part of the country’s actual name, it remains lowercased. Examples: southern France, northern Canada. However, if, like Northern Ireland and North Korea, the direction is part of the proper name, it should be capitalized.

With names of states
The same rule applies as with names of nations. Unless the direction is part of the state’s proper name, it remains lowercased. Examples: North Dakota, West Virginia, eastern Iowa, southern Texas.

Quiz
Test your skills with a quiz. Decide whether the word in italics should be lowercased or capitalized. (They will all be lowercased in the test sentences.) The answers are at the bottom.

1. Erin wants to go to north Carolina to visit her cousin.
2. Sammy drove two hundred miles south to get to Texas.
3. Paul’s favorite part of the country is the northeast.
4. Greg’s sales district is in eastern Alabama.
5. Every winter, there’s a mass exodus of old people who head to the south to avoid winter.

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

Erin Servais is a book editor and author coach focusing on women author-entrepreneurs. To get a free assessment about how she can help you, email her at Erin@dotanddashllc.com or check out her website: Dot and Dash.