11

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"?

14

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).

  • AP style does not have this rule. It prescribes what mgb suggests in an answer below: capitalize only when the official title precedes the name. President Clinton has served as president since 1993. This style seems most common in practice.

  • The Chicago Manual of Style agrees, as Sven Yargs points out in the comments below.

  • 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.

  • 3
    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
  • +1 for "Supreme Court of Capitalization"! I do believe we need one. :-) – Cyberherbalist Jan 23 '15 at 17:01
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    See Chicago Manual of Style, fifteenth edition (2003): "8.25 Civil titles[.] the president; George Washington, first president of the United States; President Washington; ..." Chicago reiterates this style guideline at "8.21 Capitalization [of titles and offices.] ... [examples:] President Lincoln; the president." It seems clear to me that Chicago endorses "the president" over "the President," but "President Obama" over "president Obama." On both of these points, Chicago and AP evidently agree. – Sven Yargs Nov 10 '15 at 9:27
  • @Mari-Lou, you can get a historical version of the link from archive.org. The 1st one is web.archive.org/web/20111122054323/http://…. The 2nd one is web.archive.org/web/20111130121328/http://…. The 1st one does concede that not capitalizing "the President" may be objectionable, while the 2nd one does not address this usage at all. – grovkin Aug 27 '17 at 22:30
4

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.

  • ‘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
3

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.

  • Great 1st answer! Now, come back and answer some more! We miss you! – Cyberherbalist Jan 23 '15 at 19:01
  • What makes your point even stronger is that the Vice President's job description of "the president of the Senate" is not capitalized. – grovkin Aug 26 '17 at 17:53
2

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.

  • 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 assume this refers to my answer. The page has changed since I linked to it; who knows what the manual says now... – Jason Orendorff Jan 28 '15 at 3:59
  • Kathy's answer is correct with respect to the fifteenth edition of Chicago, and I would be astonished if the sixteenth edition offered conflicting advice on this point. – Sven Yargs Nov 10 '15 at 9:25
-1

The US Constitution (the document which actually defines what is a US President) uses "President" when referring to POTUS and "president of the Senate" when referring to the list of responsibilities of the Vice President. Since it is the founding legal document, all legal document can be expected to use capitalization when refering to a title and to not use it when using it as a job description.

As for the specific title of the US President, I found the answer while researching my own question on this subject here. Apparently NY Times switched from capitalizing to non-capitalizing spelling around the time of transition from Clinton to Bush (in 2000). I put the links to quotes in the body of my question there (in case anyone is interested).

  • Doesn’t the US Constitution capitalize many words that we don’t capitalize in modern legal documents? – sumelic Mar 5 '18 at 22:52
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    In the preamble, the Constitution also capitalizes People, Order, Union, etc. Does that mean those words should always be capitalized then? Capitalization in those days was very different from the way it is now. – Kevin Mar 5 '18 at 23:13
  • As long as by "now" you mean "past 2000", you are right. But capitalization of "President" as a titular was universal before 2000. You can check out the links I found. And the Constitution remains the law of the land as written. It's not a historic document as much as it is a legal document. In all legal writing the emphasis has to comport with the Constitution. I specifically pointed out that the "president of ..." job of the Vice President is not capitalized to point out why there is a clear distinction that the document draws between "President" the title and "president" the job. – grovkin Mar 6 '18 at 3:15
  • Commented this on your linked question, but it appears that the NYTimes switched from "the President" to "the president" between 2000-01-28 and 2000-02-13, while Bush wasn't elected until 2000-11-07. So, I'd suggest removing the speculation about their change being due to Bush, as that's clearly not the case. (Though your observation about the change itself is neat!) – Nat Jul 1 at 15:38
  • Actually, weird.. it looks like the 2000-01-28 article I linked uses both "the President" and "the president". I guess they may've transitioned while that article was being written, and the editor missed correcting it? – Nat Jul 1 at 15:42

protected by tchrist Mar 4 '15 at 23:55

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