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I was taught at an early age in the USA that when we write about our President, we are supposed to capitalize the title in order to signify that it's on the federal level. Is it correct to always do this? And what about saying "the presidency" -- should that be "the Presidency"?

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You may be interested in HARDY, R. J. and WEBBER, D. J. (2008), Is It “President” or “president” of the United States?. Presidential Studies Quarterly, 38: 159–182. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-5705.2007.02634.x, which discusses how this has changed in publications, stating that 'the lowercase “president” [has been] the rule rather than the exception' since the 1970s and that this change started with academic publications about the presidency. –  aedia λ Oct 11 '11 at 19:21
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It's certainly nothing to do with "federal level". If you write "President Obama" you should also write "Governor Perry". –  DJClayworth Oct 12 '11 at 2:17
    
I say, capitalize it when it refers to the President of a nation. As in, "I support the President!" –  Ms. Bloom Nov 21 '13 at 16:30

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I learned that in school too! But I don’t think many people actually follow that rule (which means it isn’t much of a rule).

  • The Chicago Manual of Style, usually a pretty strong authority on questions like this, not only does not have this rule; it actually endorses not capitalizing “president” even when it is used an official title before the president’s name, as in president George W. Bush. I haven’t found a lot of people doing this in practice though.

  • By contrast, AP style is what Martin Beckett suggests: capitalize only when the official title precedes the name. President Clinton has served as president since 1993. This style seems most common in practice.

  • Some writers, maybe 5% to 10%, follow the rule you described.

The question of which is correct ultimately hangs on what you mean by correct. This is one of the questions where there is no strong consensus. There is no ultimate authority, no Supreme Court of Capitalization, to settle the issue.

However there is a consensus on one point: in sentences like Thank you for joining us, Mr. President, it seems President is always capitalized.

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Wouldn't you generally capitalise all ranks and titles when used directly with somebodies name? –  mgb Oct 11 '11 at 19:48
    
Well, I would, yes. It is surprising to me that that isn’t what the Chicago Manual recommends. –  Jason Orendorff Oct 11 '11 at 20:43

In general usage I would probably only capitalise it when used as the title, e.g., "The president of the USA lives in the White House and the current occupant is President Obama".

I don't know if there is an official US government position on the matter.

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‘The Economist’, which generally eschews capital letters, is almost capable of writing, ‘Barack Obama, a US president’. –  Barrie England Oct 11 '11 at 19:23

The reference to Chicago Style is incorrect. Chicago Manual of Style recommends caps when it precedes the name (President Barack Obama) and lowercase for all other uses.

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What is incorrect? CMS itself or the reference by the other question? Do you have an alternate style guide for reference or are you saying that CMS says something else? –  Mitch Jul 16 '12 at 13:14

I've been continually frustrated by the general consensus against capitalizing "president" when discussing the POTUS. Perhaps it is because as a law student, I read hundreds of Supreme Court opinions, which (as far as I can recall) always refer to the office as "the President." This applies whether the reference is to a specific act, such as "the bill was vetoed by the President," or a general description, such as "the sole authority rests with the President." This capitalization seems useful and appropriate to me because the President is a legal office that carries legal authority in and of itself, to say nothing of the fact that in our system the title is itself an entire branch of government.

To say "president Barack Obama" is to imply he has been picked as some sort of leader of a discrete group. To say "the President" is to acknowledge the lawful power granted to him who holds that title solely on the basis that he holds that title.

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Welcome to ELU! :-) Thanks for your input. –  medica Dec 20 '13 at 5:29

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