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Despite the clearly partisan claims of people who don't like the current President, this question is NOT a duplicate.

I have been seeing more and more the word "President" being used without capitalization lately. Specifically, this appears in what used to be respectful newspapers (NY Times and such). Is this their use of poetic license to show their dissatisfaction with President Trump? Or is it a more subtle point?

My understanding was that when referring to an office which is held by one person at a time, the title of the office is always to be capitalized because it's a proper name. But I don't even remember the last time I saw NY Times capitalize "President". What's a good rule of thumb? In my own writing, I've followed the rule that if the word is plural or if the article "a" is appropriate, then the word should be lower-case; otherwise, it should be capitalized.

To be clear, the context in which I see these lack of capitalization is one in which the current President is discussed and his specific actions are being addressed and they are not being compared to actions of other presidents.

Edit: thanks to Mari-Lou's findings, I have to concede the recent practice at NY Times has been to only capitalize "President" before a proper name. However, the links I have found show that they used "the President" as recently as the Clinton era and began changing to "the president" starting with Bush.

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Edit 2: User Nat found that the precise time of the change was actually in the last year of Clinton's administration.

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Interestingly, they still had to use "the President" during the Bush administration when referring to proper titles of books they reviewed and when publishing historic accounts. In fact, even if parts of those accounts were their own text joining multiple narratives they used the historical papers' grammar rules.

I'll post some of what I found in the hopes that some people may find it interesting and maybe even elucidating. Unfortunately, due to the would-be political hackery of those who don't like anything short of the sharpest rebuke of the current President, this question (about grammar of all things!) is now wrongly marked as a duplicate. As a result, I cannot post the part after the "edit" as an answer to my own question (because no further answers can be posted).

Here's some examples of how the grammar at NYTimes has evolved:

1865 (I kid you not!) NYTimes republishing letters to "the President" and NYTimes' own comments between the letters to provide a timeline.

1998 article on Clinton's impeachment uses "the President" when referring to Clinton. The byline is NYTimes'.

1999 republishing of a transcription by Federal News Service, so the byline is not NYTimes'. It uses "the President" when referring to Clinton.

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The 2 example below are due to a comment by Nat:

01-28-2000 NYTimes article during the last year of Clinton's Presidency uses a mix of both capitalized "the President" and not capitalized "the president" when referring to POTUS.

02-13-2000 NYTimes article during the following month (of still Clinton's Presidency) does not capitalize "the president" when referring to POTUS.

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2001 review of 4 books, titled "The Making of the President, 2000", has NYTimes' byline and clearly it is still using "the President" in the title, but already switched to "the president" in the text.

2002 article about President Bush already uses "the president" when referring to POTUS.

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    I looked into your speculation that the NYTimes changed their convention upon President Bush's election. For reference, he was elected around 2000-11-07. And one of your links above demonstrates that the NYTimes used the capitalized "the President" in earlier 2000. This made your theory about them switching to lower-case to imply disrespect seemingly plausible! But then I checked for when exactly they switched, and it was long before Bush's election, e.g. this article is from 2000-06-23. – Nat Jul 1 '19 at 15:03
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    So while it appears that you're correct that the NYTimes did change their grammatical convention, since they did so long before Bush was elected, the theory that they did so to disrespect a Republican president seems unreasonable. – Nat Jul 1 '19 at 15:05
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    To be precise, it looks like they changed around late-January 2000, because this article from 2000-01-28 uses "the President" while this article from 2000-02-13 uses "the president". Note that this early usage of "the president" is referring to President Clinton. (Sorry to spam comments, but this question's hypothesis was interesting enough to investigate.) – Nat Jul 1 '19 at 15:10
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    @Nat looks like your own investigation nailed down the change more precisely to January/February of 2000. This would be a good answer to this question. Unfortunately, the question is closed and cannot receive any more answers. But this only shows again why this question was not a simple "what's the right capitalization" question. It was a question about when and why the capitalization changed. – grovkin Jul 1 '19 at 20:13
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    @Nat I've incorporated the information from your comments into the question since comments can get erased. Thanks for your thorough investigation. Again, it's unfortunate that you can't get credit for it by answering the question. – grovkin Jul 1 '19 at 20:29
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The word "president" should only be capitalized if it is specifically used as a person's title - before his or her name. If it is being used only to refer to the office, it is not capitalized. This is similar to other offices or positions, such as "senator," "dean," and "doctor."

Examples:

  1. "The mob was angry with how President Smith handled the event." ["President Smith" is treated as his name, and therefore capitalized.]

  2. "In your opinion, should the president have so much control over individual's lives?" [In this case, the word "president" refers only to the office, and is not referring to a specific person holding the title.]

  3. "The doctor told him not to eat salt." [In this case, the word "doctor" refers to the person, not by his name.]

  4. "Please send that grade sheet to Dean Johnson." [In this case, the title of "Dean" is part of the person's name, and is therefore capitalized.]

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    But there are other examples you didn't, but could have given - Emanuel Macron, the President of France, received Donald Trump, President of the United States at the Elysée Palace. Or The President of the Institution of Electrical Engineers welcomed delegates to the conference. Where the word "president" is part of a title, or where one is referring to the person by his title - The trophy was awarded by the President - then a capital P is called for. That is the rule that usually applies in Britain, and I believe in America too. – WS2 Aug 26 '17 at 21:01
  • Shouldn't your 2nd example be "a president"? As in "... should a president have so much control over individuals' lives?" I don't believe American usage is the same as British. And when referring to the President of The United States, the grammar used in law should be considered definitive unless there is a compelling reason for doing otherwise (because it's a government position). – grovkin Aug 26 '17 at 23:44
  • @WS2, one of the Vice President's duties is referred to as "president of the Senate" in the US Constitution. And yet the President is always referred to as the "President" in the same document. And the document does not refer to any one specific person. Since it is the document which authorizes all other legal documents in the US legal system, breaking away from the capitalization it uses could potentially undermine legitimacy of any other legal document. I am not aware of any argument against capitalizing "President" to communicate that POTUS is the subject of the conversation. – grovkin Aug 27 '17 at 0:21
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    There are a few exceptions to the general rule I can think of: a god versus God has to be taken in context; a pope versus the Pope (in most sources); a church versus Church (culturally dependent: Anglican, Catholic, Mormon; state, states, the State - among others that are context dependent. "President is straightforward, and I've personally never seen an exception, except perhaps as a typo – Stu W Aug 27 '17 at 20:14

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