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Ultimately I'm wondering whether the descriptive in "former President [Name]" is superfluous or necessary in everyday usage, such as when talking to an audience who knows who the current president is.

marked as duplicate by Kris, Chenmunka, choster, Robusto, phenry Oct 3 '14 at 20:32

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  • Please clarify if your question pertains to "former" or "President" as the superfluous word. – Theresa Oct 2 '14 at 3:55
  • Sorry, I was referring to former. – Louis Oct 2 '14 at 4:21
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    This question is not about the English language. – Kris Oct 2 '14 at 5:25
  • @Kris Okay, I felt good with the tags, but if it's off topic I'll delete it. – Louis Oct 2 '14 at 5:33
  • @Kris - You seem to have a very narrow concept of what can be discussed in relation to the English language. I find no fault with the question, which clearly relates to one aspect of English usage. (Just to remind you, this forum is even titled 'English language and usage'.) – Erik Kowal Oct 2 '14 at 9:15

The tradition and custom of the US military forces and diplomatic corps is to address the person as "Mr. President" after he leaves office, for the rest of his life. It is not his legal title, it is an honorific.


The usage of the expression 'Former President' is a custom, a form of respect, not a proper title. Mr. President or President ( surname) are forms commonly used in the media to refer to a former President.

  • In America there is one President and one Vice President at a time, and those titles can only be applied to the person holding the office at the time1. There is never more than one living person who can be properly called President. The titles does not follow a person into retirement.

  • "Former President" is an historical description, not a title. The moment a president leaves office he reverts to the highest title he has held short of the Presidency. (Similar to when a king abdicates and reverts to Earl of Whatever) Here are the proper titles of our last several Presidents if you were inviting them to a formal dinner (the dead ones are included only as examples):

General Eisenhower,

Senator Kennedy,

Senator Johnson,

Representative Nixon,

Representative Ford,

Governor Carter,

Governor Reagan,

Ambassador Bush,

Governor Clinton.

Source: www.democraticunderground.com

  • Your source is a random web post that offers no supporting evidence for its claim. As a contrary claim, the White House's own web site refers to Bill Clinton as "President Clinton". Are you saying they are wrong? – Nate Eldredge Oct 2 '14 at 7:16
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    It is an honorific title and a respectful way to address a former President as I said in my answer. – user66974 Oct 2 '14 at 7:41
  • @NateEldredge I tried to add some credibility by referencing a Washington Post archive, although it possibly an advice column. – Louis Oct 2 '14 at 9:22

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