Feb 17, 2011

Capitalization Rules: When is the President Not the President?

I learned something new today.  I was taught years ago that when speaking of the President of the United States, the word president was capitalized.  It was also correct to capitalize when speaking of a particular person, i.e, President Lincoln.  I learned today that when using the name of the office to denote a particular person without using their name, that it is no longer capitalized.

When using the word president to denote a particular person, even without the name, it was considered a proper noun and therefore capitalized.  For instance, if you typed everyone stood when the President entered the room, president would be capitalized because you were speaking of a particular person, therefore a proper noun.   That rule no longer applies, according to the Yahoo Style Guide.

The Yahoo Style Guide now says "Capitalize a person's title only when it's used directly before a name" and gives the example:  The president returned to the Oval Office to greet the pope.

I find it odd that we should no longer capitalize the title that speaks of a particular person, but are to capitalize the name of a room that person sometimes occupies.  Not sure who wrote that rule, but a rule it is.

While I don't agree with every item between the pages of the Yahoo Style Guide, it's a tool every freelance writer should have on their desk.  If you write for and publish on the internet, purchasing the Yahoo Style Guide would be money well-spent (and it's tax deductible).

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Copyright 2011 Marie Anne St. Jean

1 comment:

  1. It's actually not a new rule, neither do I think it's a changed rule. As far as I know, it's been in the APA and MLA style guides since before I was in high school (and I'm feeling ancient these days).

    But I don't think the rule ever was to capitalize it, it's just that there's confusion as to how it should be capitalized (what it means to say, "in place of their name"). What that means is, If it's being used in a direct address -- in place of the person's name to address them -- it IS still capitalized.

    Example: Mr. President, can you tell us...

    But not: The president told us we could...

    Titles are only capitalized when used with the person's name, or as a full title and name, such as: Ben Jenson, President, Company A., or as above, when used in a direct address in place of the name or with the name President Jenson, etc.

    I think that many used it incorrectly in common usage, and I see it used incorrectly all the time, so this is a great post for getting folks on the right page! I've also seen people argue that they capitalize the word 'president' out of respect for the man in office, and while that is, uhm, admirable, I guess, it's not grammatically correct! LOL

    Oh - did you know they are probably going to change Internet to common usage internet in the next APA style guide update? Ah, gotta love common usage! It's a living language, so we just roll with the waves!

    Thanks for a great post.