Please excuse the contrived example below, but I am wondering if this example is properly capitalised? I'm assuming that capitals are used when addressing someone directly, but lower case is used elsewhere. Can someone give some rules on this?

The captain walked into the room.
"Hi, Captain," said the admiral.
"Hi, Sir," replied the captain.
"Call me Admiral."
"Hi Admiral."
The captain and admiral stepped forward.
"Prime Minister, this is Captain Jones," said Admiral Brown.
"Pleased to meet you," said the prime minister.

  • All correct, except that "sir" here is not a title and should not be capitalized. If you were talking about "Sir Winthrop of Cornwall" or some such that it would be a title, but here it's just a polite address. (Unless we're assuming that the admiral is a member of the nobility.) – Jay Jul 20 '12 at 16:41
  • I wondered about that one, which is why I included it in the example. I just thought of another one- what about colloquial words such as sis for sister - would that ever be capitalised in dialogue? I look at both versions and feel lower case could be confusing (as it's not a real word and so would rely on context) and to capitalise just looks wrong. I suspect after the comment above it wouldn't be capitalised (unless it came at the start of a sentence). I'm doing yet another final edit on a manuscript and like to get this stuff right. – PhilG Jul 21 '12 at 8:55

It looks right to me. The rules of capitalisation (based on the Chicago Manual of Style) are explained quite well on this page. One of the rules relevant to this question is as follows:

Rule 3

Capitalize a person's title when it precedes the name. Do not capitalize when the title is acting as a description following the name.


Chairperson Petrov

Ms. Petrov, the chairperson of the company, will address us at noon.

  • Marking this as the answer for the link that has a good set of examples. I find this confusing for some reason, maybe it just doesn't look right in my eyes sometimes. Thanks for the other answers too. – PhilG Jul 20 '12 at 14:46
  • Would be helpful if the answer actually quoted a single example. Otherwise it could be obsolete in no time. Link rot happens. – RegDwigнt Jul 20 '12 at 15:03
  • @RegDwightАΑA Point taken. I have added one of the rules applicable here. – coleopterist Jul 20 '12 at 15:16
  • @coleopterist: Given your example, would you consider it correct to say that a title (Chairperson Petrov) needs to be capitalized, but a role (chairperson of the company) does not? – Flater May 12 '17 at 8:14

At least according to CMOS, there are a few rules that apply. (Your mileage may vary with AP or Oxford rules, I just happen to have CMOS within grabbing distance.)

7.16 says that titles used in place of names in direct address are capitalized. (e.g., "'Hi, Captain'")

7.17 says that titles used alone in place of a name are generally lowercased (e.g., "replied the captain").

(Edit: Cited the wrong rule.)


That is correct. Titles are capitalized only when they appear with a name or when they are used to address. Otherwise, when the word stand alone, it is not capitalized.

Usually, when the titles is local only to a group or an organization, it is NOT capitalized, eg:"the disaster management head, Mr. X"....


Like Coleopterist said, the capitalization is good, the formality is a bit off though. If you were trying to have a conversation with a Captain or an Admiral it would be a bit more formal like, Good evening or Good Afternoon, unless they are good friends. I understand this is really off topic and that you said that you tried to make it look artificial but formality is also important.

  • You make a good point; the original question is concerned with etiquette, and your contribution is valid. Please avoid using phrases like, "this will probably get a lot of downvotes." – Andrew Kozak Nov 30 '14 at 21:13

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