Thursday, September 6, 2012

Titles are a capital idea - sometimes

During these weeks of political conventions, we all have seen references to the president, representatives, senators, governors and other officials.

It has been my experience that many people have trouble with rules of capitalization when using titles with names. I use The Associated Press Stylebook rules for these situations, and the rules are fairly simple.

Generally, when an official title comes before someone's name, capitalize the title and abbreviate it when appropriate. When the title comes after someone's name, lowercase the title and usually spell it out. Here are some examples:

Five speakers, including U.S. Sen. John Smith, spoke to the delegates.
Five speakers, including John Smith, a U.S. senator, spoke to the delegates.

The council and New York Mayor John Smith criticized the proposal.
The council and John Smith, the mayor of New York, criticized the proposal.

Customers sued Widget Inc. Chief Executive Officer Bob Jones.
Customers sued Widget Inc. CEO Bob Jones.
Customers sued Bob Jones, chief executive officer of Widget Inc.
Customers sued Bob Jones, CEO of Widget Inc.

OK, that's pretty simple. Now, what about plurals - when you have more than one person with the same title? When the title comes before the name, capitalize and make plural, abbreviating the title when appropriate. When the title comes after the name, lowercase and make plural. Here are some examples:

The audience heard U.S. Sens. John Smith and Bob Jones speak.
The audience heard from John Smith and Bob Jones, U.S. senators.

Speeches given by Chief Executive Officers John Smith and Bob Jones were well received.
Speeches give by John Smith and Bob Jones, chief executive officers, were well received.

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