AP Style Titles

The AP Stylebook holds that capitalization, in general, should be confined to formal titles that are used directly before an individual’s name. This being said, however, the AP Stylebook does go on to list some more specific guidelines that are to be followed when using various titles in your text.

When to Lowercase Titles

You should lowercase and spell out titles when they are not used with an individual’s name. For example,

  • The congressman gave a speech.
  • The school president delivered the invocation.

You should lowercase and spell out titles when they are in constructions that set them off from a name by commas. For example,

  • The 40th president, Ronald Reagan, was elected in 1980.
  • James Brown, our current high-school principal, does not plan to leave our school.

Courtesy Titles

The courtesy titles Mr., Mrs., Miss, and Ms. apply both in regular text and in quotations. To see when to use these courtesy titles, see our page on the subject.

Formal Titles

AP Style holds that formal titles should be capitalized when they appear directly in front of one or more names. For example,

  • The Reverend Bill Graham has met with many presidents.
  • Then Senator John F. Kennedy was elected president.

A formal title is different, however, from a simple occupational description. A formal title generally denotes a scope of authority, professional activity, or academic activity. For example,

  • Governor Jerry Brown.
  • Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
  • General George S. Patton.
  • Professor Joel Slemrod.

These titles are different from the following occupational titles,

  • astronaut Neil Armstrong.
  • television star Neil Patrick Harris.
  • movie state Brad Pitt.
  • peanut farmer Jimmy Carter.

One way to determine whether a title of formal or occupational is to look at the governmental or private organization that confers it. Do they capitalize the title in their usage of it? If so, it is probably a formal title and should be capitalized.

However, if you are ever unsure whether a title is formal or occupational, you can avoid the problem of capitalization by using a construction that sets it off by commas. For instance in our above example,

  • The 40th president, Ronald Reagan, was elected in 1980.
  • James Brown, our current high-school principal, does not plan to leave our school.

Abbreviated Titles

Certain formal titles should be capitalized and abbreviated when they appear in your text. The following titles are capitalized and abbreviated when use before a name both inside and outside of quotations.

  • Dr.
  • Gov.
  • Lt. Gov.
  • Rep.
  • Sen.
  • Pvt. (and certain other military ranks, see full page)

All other formal titles are to be spelled out in all uses.

Government Officials

Stories that are with U.S. datelines should not include U.S. before “Secretary of State” or other governmental officials, unless it is necessary for clarity. For example,

  • Secretary of State John Kerry.
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

In stories with international datelines, U.S. should be included before titles. For example,

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
  • U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The titles of the presidency and vice presidency are exceptions. Even in international datelines these can appear as

  • President Barrack Obama.
  • Vice President Joe Biden.

Royal Titles

Capitalize king, queen, prince, etc., when used directly before a name. For example,

  • Prince Harry has red hair.
  • Queen Elizabeth met with the Prime Minister.

See individual entries on the nobility page.

Titles of Nobility

Capitalize a full title when it serves as the alternate name for an individual. For example,

  • The Duke of Wellington today ate at the local café.

For more titles see nobility page.

Past and Future Titles

A title that someone has held, will hold in the future, or holds temporarily should be capitalized when used directly before their name. The qualifying word, however, should not be capitalized. For example,

  • This is a policy put in place by former President Bill Clinton.
  • I am pleased to announce the interim Principal Curt Babcock.

Long Titles

Long titles should be separated from a name by constructions that require a comma. For example,

  • Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, met with us today.
  • The undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, Frank Kendall, met with us today.

Unique Titles

If a title only applies to a one person in an organization, insert the word “the” in a construction that uses commas. For example,

  • Jim Jones, the managing editor, spoke with us about journalism.

Additional Guidance

Many other commonly used titles not included on this page are listed separately on the main AP Stylebook page. Also, please see our other pages on academic titles, composition titles, courtesy titles, book titles, legislative titles, magazine titles, movie titles, military titles, presidential titles, and religious titles.

Leave a Comment