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Writing Tip: November 12, 2001

Titles of Persons

Can you identify problems with the capitalization of titles in any of the following sentences?

-- The position of Comptroller for Acme Corporation is currently being advertised.

-- John Smith, Dean of the ULS School of Medicine, will be the keynote speaker.

-- Jane Doe, former President of United Corporation, was born in Hot Springs, Arizona.

-- The most recent President of United Corporation, Jane Doe, was born in Hot Springs, Arizona.

-- Please contact Lynn Johnson, Westbrook Education Outreach Program Coordinator.

All of the positions mentioned in these five sentences should have been lowercased.

We do not capitalize the title/rank/position of a person when it follows the individual's name; when it used with the name of a company, an agency, an office, and the like; or when it is used alone. In other words, a title/rank/position is a common noun or adjective unless it immediately precedes a person's name.

The following correct usages should make the distinction clear:

1. Lieutenant Colonel Peterson commanded the operation.

2. Lt. Col. Jack Peterson commanded the operation. (When a person's full name is given, military ranks are abbreviated.)

3. U.S. Army lieutenant colonel Jack Peterson commanded the operation.

4. Jack Peterson, a lieutenant colonel, commanded the operation.

5. A lieutenant colonel, Jack Peterson, commanded the operation.

6. A lieutenant colonel, Jack Peterson commanded the operation.

Sentences 1 and 2 represent the use of the rank in its true sense as a title-that is, as a proper adjective immediately preceding the person's name. The rank "Lieutenant Colonel," as well as the abbreviation "Lt. Col.," is therefore capitalized.

Sentence 3 represents the use of the rank as a common adjective. Since there is no such rank or title as "U.S. Army lieutenant colonel," the title "lieutenant colonel" is in this usage a generic description, which is not to be capitalized.

Sentence 4 represents the use of the rank as a common noun. It is a generic designation rather than a true title because it follows, rather than immediately precedes, the person's name.

Sentence 5 also represents the use of the rank as a common noun. Even though it may seem to be immediately preceding the person's name, it is not. It functions here as the subject of the verb "commanded," with the person's name functioning as an appositive set off with commas. It is not being used as a title. It is helpful to think of the sentence as saying, in essence, "A lieutenant colonel whose name is Jack Peterson commanded the operation."

Sentence 6 represents another use of the rank as a common noun, even though it may again seem to be immediately preceding the person's name. It is not being used as a title but as an introductory noun phrase. Think of this sentence as saying, "Jack Peterson, who is a lieutenant colonel, commanded the operation."

These same principles can be applied to any title, rank, or position. Thus, in the sample sentences at the beginning of this tip, we should not have capitalized the words comptroller, dean, president, or program coordinator.

TEST YOURSELF

Are the titles and positions mentioned in the following sentences capitalized correctly?

1. All planning activities will resume when the DHEC Infrastructure Director and the Director of the Division of Water Safety are fully on board.

2. The roles of the Director of Training and the Training Coordinator will continue to be vital as we begin our intensive planning.

3. "Participants will learn how to take tests, fill out job applications, and tackle tough job interviews," said Judy Lewis, District Superintendent.

4. Regional School Health Coordinator Brian Wilson will work with DHEC Regional Community Development Specialists.

ANSWERS:

1. All planning activities will resume when the DHEC infrastructure director and the director of the Division of Water Safety are fully on board.

2. The roles of the director of training and the training coordinator will continue to be vital as we begin our intensive planning.

3. "Participants will learn how to take tests, fill out job applications, and tackle tough job interviews," said Judy Lewis, district superintendent.

4. Regional School Health Coordinator Brian Wilson will work with DHEC regional community development specialists. Copyright 2001 Get It Write

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