Knowing when to capitalize job titles can be tricky: is it an official title or just describing someone's role? The rules for the capitalization of job titles depend on the order of the words, the use of the words, and whether or not the job title is used as part of the person’s name.
Rules for Capitalization of Job Titles
The rules to remember are:
- Capitalize a job title that comes immediately before the person’s name or is used as part of their name (usually replacing their first name). Examples would be: Professor Plum, Chairman Scarlett or Reverend Green. The title might give more information, like: Dean of Students Thomas or Speaker of the House Jones.
- If the job title comes after the person’s name, or is used instead of the person's name, then it is not capitalized, as in: Sarah Smith, chairman of the board, or the governor of California.
There are exceptions to this rule.
In formal contexts, such as a signature line at the end of a letter, the job title may be capitalized:
Mary Contrary, President
When a title is used in direct address it is capitalized: "Is he going to pull through, Doctor?"
Or, if a high-ranking job title is replacing the name, it may still be capitalized out of courtesy. (However, it is not the norm to do this.) So you can write: "I saw the President today."
The rule of capitalization of job titles applies to abbreviations too, so General Grant would be Gen. Grant.
Here are some examples of these rules in sentences:
- Colonel Mustard killed Mr. Boddy.
- Professor Diggs, of the Archeology Department, is looking for Atlantis.
- Mr. Waters, vice president of operations, will make an announcement today.
- Mrs. Butterworth, the chairwoman of Pancakes Anonymous, is retiring.
- The managing editor, Will Writealot, got fired.
- Did you see the Queen of England at the celebrations?
- Can you name all the US presidents?
- My kids have all the books written by Dr. Seuss.
Title or Job Description?
So, to summarize the capitalization of job titles, you capitalize the job title when it comes immediately before the name, in a formal context or in direct address. It is not generally capitalized if it comes after the person's name, or if there is a “the” before it.