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.