Capitalization of Titles
The proper capitalization of titles can prove quite tricky for some writers. Test your skill with the quiz below.
1. The Judge handed down a sentence of guilty, which state’s attorney Smith quickly appealed.
2. On TV’s The X-Files, doctor Dana Scully was partnered with special agent Fox Mulder, with Walter Skinner acting as their Supervisor.
3. William Bligh, an Officer of the British Royal Navy, was Captain of the infamous HMS Bounty.
4. The Sheriff left his office early to meet deputy Grimes for lunch.
5. “What exciting adventures do you have planned, admiral?”
6. Dear Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch:
1. The judge handed down a sentence of guilty, which State’s Attorney Smith quickly appealed.
Explanation: Because “judge” is used in place of a name (but not in direct address or a formal introduction), it is lowercased, whereas “State’s Attorney” is used as part of a name and is therefore capitalized.
2. On TV’s The X-Files, Doctor Dana Scully was partnered with Special Agent Fox Mulder, with Walter Skinner acting as their supervisor.
Explanation: The titles “Doctor” and “Special Agent” are used as part of the names, which means they should be capitalized. “Supervisor,” however, is used in place of a name but not in direct address, which means it should be lowercased.
3. William Bligh, an officer of the British Royal Navy, was captain of the infamous HMS Bounty.
Explanation: In this example, the terms “officer” and “captain” are used in place of a name not in direct address. Per CMS 8.18, they are lowercased.
4. The sheriff left his office early to meet Deputy Grimes for lunch.
Explanation: Because “sheriff” is used in place of a name, it is lowercased. “Deputy,” however, is used as part of a name and is therefore capitalized.
5. Correction: “What exciting voyages do you have planned, Captain?”
Explanation: The term “Captain” is being used here in direct address, which means it should be capitalized.
6. None needed!
Explanation: In a letter (i.e., a “formal communication”), titles are capitalized.
Here are some other examples:
• the king but King Charles V
• the president but President Lincoln
• the general manager but General Manager Thomas
The Chicago Manual of Style (16th Edition) states, “Civil, military, religious, and professional titles are capitalized when they immediately precede a personal name and are thus used as part of the name (typically replacing the title holder’s first name). In formal prose and other generic text … titles are normally lowercased when following a name or used in place of a name” (8.18, emphasis added) but “a title used alone, in place of a personal name, is capitalized only in such contexts as a toast or a formal introduction, or when used in direct address” (8.19).