When Do We Capitalize “Prime Minister”?

In Canada, Monday’s elections had the whole country buzzing. The Liberal Party, led by Justin Trudeau, swept through the nation and won the day with a majority government. Our new prime minister elect follows in the footsteps of his father, the late Pierre Trudeau, who was Canada’s 15th prime minister (Justin will be the 23rd).

Whether you’re thrilled by, saddened by, or indifferent to Trudeau’s victory, it’s a good bet that the election will come up in many classrooms in Canada, as well as in other countries. It’s a good time to get the capitalization rules of political titles straight before our students ask about them!

When do we capitalize “Prime Minister”?

According to many style guides, such as The Chicago Manual of Style, titles such as this are not capitalized unless they directly precede the name of an individual. Otherwise, use initial lowercase letters.

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is Canada’s newest leader.
  • The prime minister addressed the Senate.
  • Pierre Trudeau, the 15th prime minister of Canada, was Justin’s father.

Note that different style guides have different opinions on this, so if you’re teaching at the university level, tell students they should refer to their department’s style guide and follow those suggestions.

What about “Sir”?

Many of Canada’s earliest prime ministers had the title sir before their name, including our first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The capitalization rules for sir follow the same rules as those for prime minister.

  • Sir John A. Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister.
  • What can I get you, sir?
  • Excuse me, sir. Can you please tell me what time it is?

Practice

See the capitalization rules for prime minister and sir in our Famous People lessons on Pierre Trudeau and Sir John A. Macdonald. To see president in context, try any lesson from our American Presidents section.

For a discussion of president, see our blog post When Do We Capitalize “President”? Scroll down through the comments for answers to many other titles such as First Lady, governor general, the Queen, etc.

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