Grammar Abbreviating Professional Titles and Academic Degrees |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Abbreviating Professional Titles and Academic Degrees

American English includes many details concerning items of style. One such item is the abbreviation of professional titles and academic degrees. By becoming more familiar with this usage, you will become more precise in your daily formal writing. This precision can then also potentially conserve more space for other words you’re expressing.

Abbreviating Professional Titles

A professional (formal) title is typically one that indicates authority, professional status, or academic activity. As a general rule, we can abbreviate certain titles when they appear before full names or before initials and last names. In American English, abbreviations include a period.

Dr. (Doctor) Rep. (Representative) Insp. Gen. (Inspector General)
Mr. (Mister) Gen. (General) Assoc. Prof. (Associate Professor)
Prof. (Professor) St. (Saint)* Asst. Prof. (Assistant Professor)
Ald. (Alderman) Gov. (Governor) Col. (Colonel)
Sen. (Senator) Pres. (President) Lt. Col. (Lieutenant Colonel)
Examples
Dr. Martin Hawkes Rep. J. Randolph
St.* Thomas the Apostle Gen. J.J. Wyndham
Prof. Roberta Stanton Ms. S. Trevathan

We would not abbreviate such titles before last names alone.

Examples
Doctor Hawkes General Wyndham
Professor Stanton Miss Trevathan
Representative Randolph Captain Taylor

*Note that St. can be either abbreviated or spelled in full if with a first name only: St. Thomas, Saint Thomas; otherwise, standard guidelines would apply: St. Dominic Savio, but Saint Savio.

Similarly, we would abbreviate Hon. for Honorable and Rev. for Reverend when they do not include the word the and appear before full names or before initials and last names. We also would not abbreviate such titles before last names alone.

Examples
Hon. Gary Masterson the Honorable Gary Masterson
Rev. H.B. Robinson Reverend Robinson

When a formal title follows a person’s name, we abbreviate the title with a period: Jr. (Junior), Sr. (Senior), Esq. (Esquire). We would include a comma before Esq. but not before Jr. and Sr.

Bartholomew H. Makepeace, Esq.

Preston B. Franklin Jr.

Ernesto R. Gonzalez Sr.

Note we would not use the abbreviation Esq. when another title is given before or after the name:

Correct: Bartholomew H. Makepeace, Esq.
Incorrect: Mr. Bartholomew H. Makepeace, Esq.

Correct: B.H. Makepeace, Esq.
Incorrect: B.H. Makepeace, M.D., Esq.

Abbreviating Academic Degrees

Individuals might choose to identify themselves with an academic degree or designation of achievement attained. The following are common abbreviations for such distinctions.

B.A. (Bachelor of Arts) Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)
B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts) J.D. (Juris Doctor [Doctor of Law])
B.S. (Bachelor of Science) R.N. (Registered Nurse)
M.S. (Master of Science) M.D. (Doctor of Medicine)
M.A. (Master of Arts) C.P.A. (Certified Public Accountant)

When an abbreviated academic reference is included, the abbreviation would follow the person’s full name and be set off by a comma. No other title should precede the name.

Correct: Tyra E. King, M.D.
Correct: T.E. King, M.D.

Incorrect: Dr. Tyra E. King, M.D.
Incorrect: Doctor King, M.D.

Related Topics

Punctuation for Abbreviations
Capitalization of Academic Degrees
Capitalization of Job Titles

Pop Quiz

Choose the correct forms of professional titles according to their context in each sentence.

1. The idea to rebuild the canal began with [Sen. / Senator] Joe Stevens.

2. The white paper on a potential new treatment for cystic fibrosis was written by [Dr. / Doctor / no title] Paula Lacroix, M.D.

3. [Hon. / The Honorable] William Guyer will be delivering the keynote speech tonight.

4. [Gov. / Governor] Bridges met with the state representatives for three hours today.

5. The name on the card says [Mr. / no title / Mister] Andrew H. Rudolph, Esq.

 

Pop Quiz Answers

1. The idea to rebuild the canal began with Sen. Joe Stevens.

2. The white paper on a potential new treatment for cystic fibrosis was written by [no title] Paula Lacroix, M.D.

3. The Honorable William Guyer will be delivering the keynote speech tonight.

4. Governor Bridges met with the state representatives for three hours today.

5. The name on the card says [no title] Andrew H. Rudolph, Esq.

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

8 responses to “Abbreviating Professional Titles and Academic Degrees”

  1. Mel Carpenter says:

    I like your article on title abbreviations, but it was not complete enough for me. I have been confused many times about the correct abbreviation of military ranks. To add to the confusion, a Captain in the Navy (pay grade O6) is not the same as a Captain in the Army, Marine Corps, or Air Force (pay grade O3). An Army Captain has the same pay grade (O3) as a Navy or Coast Guard Lieutenant. I am a retired Navy O5. Am I a CDR, Cmdr., or what? I’m “CDR” on the name tag of my flight suit, but when I write a peer-reviewed article for a scientific magazine, I’m Cmdr.

    Knowing and using the correct abbreviations for enlisted ranks is even more confusing. What if I were writing to an Army Specialist First Class and a Navy Petty Officer Third Class? Help!

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      This article is meant to be a broader overview of professional titles as opposed to an elaboration of profession-specific titles. For military style, you might begin your research at a website such as:
      https://www.cem.va.gov/docs/abbreviations/Ranks_Navy.pdf
      You might also look into acquiring a copy of the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) Style Manual, which, to our understanding, addresses writing style in the military. In the future, GrammarBook.com might add an article that discusses military style in greater depth as well.

  2. Joseph Hofstrand says:

    Does Mrs. mean Mistress?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      The abbreviation Mrs. originated from the word mistress when the word had a different connotation from the one we give it today. Over time, the abbreviation evolved to mean a married woman, the context in which it is now widely recognized. Some people currently interpret Mrs. as an abbreviation for its enunciation (missus), but some prescriptive grammarians still view that interpretation as inaccurate or overly colloquial.

  3. Susan Knoll says:

    In my opinion, in the section entitled, “Abbreviating Professional Degrees,” it would be more congruent with the other listed examples to indicate that M.D. is the abbreviated titled for “Medical Doctor,” rather than “Doctor of Medicine.”

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      The format “M.D.” originated from the Latin title “Medic─źnae Doctor” (Doctor of Medicine). Similarly, “Ph.D.” originated from the Latin title “Philosophiae Doctor” (Doctor of Philosophy). You’ll note that both abbreviations follow the format of their Latin letter order and their English interpretation, although “Doctor of Medicine” and “Medical Doctor” are both wholly acceptable as interchangeable alternatives. Conversely, a title such as “Registered Nurse” did not originate from a Latin title, so its abbreviation follows its English letter order (R.N.).

  4. James Johnson says:

    Of the following two:

    Rev. Your Name, M.D.

    or

    Rev. Dr. Your Name

    Are both of these acceptable?

    • GrammarBook.com says:

      When an abbreviated academic reference is included (M.D.), no other title should precede the name. The Associated Press Stylebook says, “Use the Rev. Dr. only if the individual has an earned doctoral degree (doctor of divinity degrees frequently are honorary) and reference to the degree is relevant.”

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