When To Capitalize “President”

Have you ever worried about when president should be capitalized? It just comes down to the title! You should only capitalize president as a title before an individual’s name or when directly addressing a person in that role (e.g., President George Washington). Variations of the word, such as presidential, should not be capitalized unless they begin a sentence or are used as part of a proper name (e.g., Presidential Medal of Freedom).

Addressing a president

President follows the same capitalization rules as other titles. A title is the name that describes a person’s position, rank, office, or job. You should only capitalize titles when they come directly before a person’s name, as in President Abraham Lincoln.

Similarly, the title should be capitalized when it is used in place of a president’s name or when addressing a president directly, as in Hello, Mr. President.

Other than those cases, president should be lowercase. Take this sentence for example: The president lives in the White House. Here, president is neither being used as a title before a person’s name, nor as a direct address, so it isn’t capitalized.

President doesn’t get capitalized if it comes after a person’s name, as in Barack Obama, president of the United States, or if the name that follows is being used as a nonessential phrase offset by commas. Nonessential means the phrase is not crucial to the meaning of the sentence as a whole. For example: The 42nd president, Bill Clinton, was born on August 19, 1946. Here, Bill Clinton is a nonessential phrase, as the sentence is clear without it.

Vice president, president-elect, and former president

The same rules apply when it comes to vice president and president-elect. They should only be capitalized when they’re used as titles before an individual’s name (e.g., Vice President Richard Nixon) or when directly addressing the person in that role.

For former presidents, follow the same rules, but don’t capitalize former, as in former President Jimmy Carter or Jimmy Carter, former president of the United States.

Non-governmental presidents and other titles

These rules are also relevant for non-governmental presidents (such as the president of a company), as well as for presidents of other countries, and all other titles in the US government (e.g., governor, senator, and mayor). For example, you could say, “In addition to being an actor, Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor of California.”

While some authors and publishers may make individual decisions to capitalize president and other titles in all circumstances out of respect for the office, it’s really only necessary to do so when you’re using the title as part of a person’s name or addressing a president directly.

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