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The capitalization in question is the following:

The first commander wasn't happy with the decision you made.

Normally, if I was to swap it out for something like "Dad" it would be capitalized, but the research I've done says do not capitalize the f or c.

But some have gotten heated saying you would because it is referring to a person. However, in other circumstances, president in the same sentence would not be.

What should happen here?

  • Everyone would take notice if the first sergeant "wasn't happy"...but if he or she were "the Sergeant Major" (just a sergeant major, not the short-form of the Sergeant Major of the Army), we'd just assume that and pretend like he or she were an individual..."the King" or "the Queen" of Something. It's tricky...but here's a similar question (w/o the dreaded "first" though): english.stackexchange.com/questions/209631/…. – KannE Jul 11 at 16:59
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Proper nouns are capitalized. Common nouns are not.

If "first commander" take the place of a name and refers to a unique individual (like "Commander-in-Chief"), it's a proper noun and would be capitalized. If refers to a member of a larger class (like "second lieutenant"), it would not be.

Another way to think about it is to ask: could you say "a first commander", or is it only possible to say "the First Commander". In the first case it's a common noun, in the second a proper noun.

  • “Did you tell First Commander about this yet?” The distinctive grammatical properties of proper nouns are far more interesting than their merely orthographic properties de jour. – tchrist Jul 11 at 12:01
  • The use of the definite article is not what determines if it's a proper noun or not. In fact, most (although not all) proper nouns are not preceded by the. – Jason Bassford Jul 11 at 20:20
  • @JasonBassford You're entirely correct. What I was trying to say is that proper nouns sometimes have definite articles, but never have indefinite articles. – AndyB Jul 12 at 7:13
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    Very off-topic but proper nouns can have indefinite articles when they denote a class of things that can be identified by the same proper noun, e.g. "There is not one shred of secular evidence there ever was a Jesus Christ" or "The theatre producer is searching for a Hamlet for a new production". – Stuart F Jul 12 at 8:55

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