How to Use Formal Titles in AP Style

by | Dec 19, 2016 | AP Style Basics, GrammarSpot | 0 comments

How to Use Formal Titles in AP Style

by | Dec 19, 2016 | AP Style Basics, GrammarSpot | 0 comments

I’ve learned, especially when writing about living persons, that formal titles are a big deal. If you fail to properly capitalize an individual’s formal title, that person may perceive it as an insult. You may also run into people insisting that you capitalize job titles that don’t actually qualify as formal. In those cases, just let them know that you’re adhering to the Associated Press Stylebook. Below are some guidelines on how to work with formal titles in AP style.

Capitalize Formal Titles Before Names

Formal titles in AP style should be capitalized when they immediately precede one or more names.

President Abraham Lincoln

Vice Presidents Al Gore and Dan Quayle

When a title stands alone or is offset from a name by commas, it should be lowercase.

The president was on vacation.

The lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, was serving in the governor’s absence.

If an individual does not presently or permanently hold a title, still capitalize it when including it before the person’s name. However, do not capitalize adjectives describing the status of the title.

former President Jimmy Carter

interim Mayor Todd Gloria

Formal Titles vs. Occupational Descriptions

The challenge is distinguishing between formal titles and occupational descriptions. A formal title is conferred upon an individual alongside a scope of authority. Examples include persons in the military, government officials, religious leaders and royalty. Formal titles may also denote a level of academic or professional achievement, as in the case of doctors.

Occupational descriptions, on the other hand, more generally describe what a person does for a living. Occupational descriptions are not capitalized even when positioned directly before an individual’s name.

astronaut Sally Ride

actor Ronald Reagan

professor Barack Obama

Notice that the AP Stylebook does not recognize professor as a formal title. Professor Emeritus, however, is a formal title and should be capitalized accordingly before a name.

For further guidance in determining whether a title is formal or occupational, you should also check whether it is capitalized in usage by the organization conferring it.

Formal Titles in Comma Constructions

If you remain unable to determine whether a title is a formal title or an occupational description, use a comma construction and set the title in lowercase apart from the individual’s name.

The department meeting was chaired by Jesse Andrews, coach of the lacrosse team.

Comma constructions should also be used for long bureaucratic titles.

Greg Eagles, deputy associate director of night basketball programs, opposed extending the three-point line.

If a title is unique to one person within an organization, use a comma construction along with the word the before the title.

Oscar Scolari, the chief operating officer, is second-in-command.

Formal Titles to Abbreviate

Most formal titles should be spelled out at all times. Specific exceptions include Dr., Rep., Sen., Gov., Lt. Gov. and certain ranks in the military. These titles should be abbreviated only when used directly before a name.

Additional Guidelines for Formal Titles

Stories with U.S. datelines generally should not include U.S. before the titles of government officials. Include U.S., however, if the omission could cause confusion.

U.S. Sen. Diana Salazar was scheduled to meet with state Sen. Calvin Carson.

International stories should include U.S. before government titles for U.S. officials.

Titles of nobility sometimes serve as alternate names for individuals. In such cases, capitalize the full title.

The Earl of Sandwich ordered a salad.

Formal Titles Are Serious Business

Do you still have questions about how to use formal titles in AP style? Let us know by commenting below, and don’t forget to check out our blog on how to use courtesy title in AP style.

Henry Fung

Henry Fung is a freelance writer and blogger. When he is not earning his paycheck, he enjoys online debates over orthography and typography. He is much more mellow in person.

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