9

As per the AP Style:

The AP Stylebook holds that you should capitalize president only as a formal title that is before one or more names. For example,

  • President Barack Obama
  • Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton

President should be lowercase is all other uses. Example,

  • The president will make an announcement tomorrow.
  • I am now announcing my candidacy for president.
  • Roosevelt was president during the Great Depression.

Also, in the specific question where this is currently an issue, the original had the capitalization as lower case and a subsequent edit changed it. I reverted that part of the edit. And then the person who made the original edit restored it with the following edit reason:

please stop insisting on the diminutive capitalization. A 'President' is not only a title of the office, it is also a branch of government. 'president' of what? A "US president" of the Senate maybe? That would be the Vice President.The diminutive 2000 spelling introduces confusion if nothing else.

  1. It is incorrect to say that a "President" is a branch of government. The presidential administration might be. Certainly the executive branch that the president leads is. But the presidency is not. It is the title of a specific office holder and should only be capitalized as part of the name.
  2. "President" of what? The country of course. But note that the style guideline posted previously uses the president of the United States in every example but only capitalizes it when used with a name.
  3. When used for a president other than the head of the US government (e.g. a corporate president), the same capitalization rules apply. Capitalize as part of a name. Don't capitalize otherwise.

It's also problematic in my opinion that the person who made the edit did so after already knowing that there was a conflict. In my experience, the rule is that if an edit has been reverted, the next step is to take it to Meta, not to edit war. We shouldn't be trying to argue in edit comments.

Further, in case of controversy, the default should be to go with what the original had. In this case, that was lower case. So we should only change that if the evidence is overwhelming that it is wrong and not just a stylistic choice. There is no such evidence in the case of capitalizing the letter in that circumstance. There is such evidence in favor of not capitalizing it.

11

Just follow the style that the original author preferred. This is like American vs. British English or any other stylistic issue: if it's clear what's intended then just respect the author and leave it be.

In this case, "president" and "President" are both clear, so there is no reason to edit it, much less have an edit war. (The same applies to "jail" and "prison", by the way, so I don't see the need to edit that either.)

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    But where do we draw the Line on personal Preference? Some People like to capitalise all the Nouns. Should we just go with the Flow or does it become a silly Exercise at some Point? – JJ for Transparency and Monica Jun 26 at 13:55
  • @JJJ We don't need to figure out exactly where the line is to adjudicate individual cases. Capitalizing every noun is vastly different from capitalizing (or not capitalizing) the word "P/president" two or three times in a post. Deciding not to enforce a particular capitalization style in this one case does not imply that we can never edit capital letters in any post. – David Richerby Jun 26 at 15:06
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    Jail versus prison is potentially significant in a US context. Outside North America, the two words are synonyms but, in the US, a "prison" is a place for serving longer sentences, typically run by a state or the federal government, and a "jail" is a place for short sentences or pre-trial detention, typically run at the county or city level. (I think Canada follows US usage, here.) – David Richerby Jun 26 at 15:10
  • @DavidRicherby agreed, it was just something to think about. For example, it gets trickier when we're talking about capitonyms. – JJ for Transparency and Monica Jun 26 at 15:42
  • @JJJ: If a word changes its meaning when you capitalize or lowercase it, then you most certainly should not be changing its capitalization in another person's post, unless you are absolutely certain they used the wrong capitalization. That's like replacing one word with a different word that is spelled or pronounced similarly - you're actually changing the meaning of the post. – Kevin Jul 5 at 17:47
  • @Kevin I actually do that all the time and people do it in my posts as well. Especially when you're typing fast you eventually end up writing a different word unintentionally and if it's in your spell checker's dictionary it won't be highlighted. You can even query many such edits by going to SEDE and looking for a added 1 character in body or deleted 1 character in body edit description. ;) – JJ for Transparency and Monica Jul 5 at 17:54
4

It seems sensible to follow the AP Style (in this case). That said, I don't think it's worth doing mass edits just to update the style for this. It can obviously part of other edits and you can edit a few (so it doesn't flush the front page).


  1. It is incorrect to say that a "President" is a branch of government. The presidential administration might be. Certainly the executive branch that the president leads is. But the presidency is not. It is the title of a specific office holder and should only be capitalized as part of the name.

Indeed, and it's all captured in the AP Styleguide excerpt at the beginning of your question (emphasis mine):

capitalize president only as a formal title that is before one or more names.

In this case, there is no name, so there should be no capitalisation (per this styleguide).


  1. "President" of what? The country of course. But note that the style guideline posted previously uses the president of the United States in every example but only capitalizes it when used with a name.

Again, no capitalisation. As an exercise, we could go to the Wikipedia page on the US president and search for presid. What you'll see is that it's only capitalised if at the beginning of the sentence. While the word is used hundreds of times, they don't seem to use the honorific. Instead, Wikipedia just use their names.

1

I would actually disagree with the AP style guide on one point here. If 'President' is being used to refer to the office of president of a particular country, then it should, by normal English rules, be capitalized. "President of the United States," "President of France," etc. are proper nouns, naming a particular office. As such, they should be capitalized.

However, if 'president' is being used in a situation where it's not referring to a specific office or title for the holder of that office, then it should not be capitalized, as it is not part of a proper noun. For example, "The presidents of several countries were present at the meeting" would not require capitalization.

In the example mentioned, thus, 'President' would be the correct form.

The most important thing in my opinion, though, is what Martin's answer says. Please don't edit someone else's post to correct this 'mistake,' which is likely not a mistake at all, but rather intended by the author. If editing someone else's post, please respect the style the original author used.


Incidentally, while Wikipedia's article on President of the United States was cited as an example against this, the article appears to be currently in something of an edit war on the matter. Actual Wikipedia policy says that it should be capitalized when it's referring to the name of a specific office (or used as shorthand for the name of such an office) and explicitly lists "President of the United States" as a case where it should be capitalized. This guidance is correctly followed in, for example, the article on the President of France and the List of Presidents of France.

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