FEATURE: How to address currentand formerofficials
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There you are at the speaker's podium in your community center's auditorium. You've been asked to introduce Hugh Midore, a political consultant who in the 1990s served a term as governor of a Midwestern state. As you glance at the cigar-gnashing keynote speaker, you're uncertain whether you should welcome him as "ex-Governor Midore," "former Governor Midore," "Governor Midore"or "the Honorable Governor Midore." And you don't know whether you should respond to him directly as "your honor" or "Mr. Midore."
Protocols established by numerous government agencies, as well as dictionaries and style guides such as the Associated Press Stylebook and the Chicago Manual of Style, offer guidance for preparing welcoming announcements, letter salutations and complimentary closes.
High-ranking American officials:
The salutation of letters addressed to most high-ranking American officials, including presidential cabinet members, can be either in the form of their title ("Dear Madam Secretary") or a courtesy title (such as "Dear Ms. Rice"). The same courtesy applies to deputy and assistant secretaries, as well as to top administrators of federal agencies. Numerous etiquette guides specify that the president and vice president of the United States should be addressed only as "Mr. President" and "Mr. Vice President" in salutations and in person; neither should be addressed by name.
The term "honorable" is generally applicable for U.S. federal and state elected officials, city mayors, presidential appointees, court justices, judges and attorneys general. Correspondence to a congressional representative may be addressed "Honorable Perry Winkle," and the letter salutation would be either "Dear Representative Winkle" or "Dear Mr. Winkle." Appropriate introduction at a speaking event would be: "Please welcome the Honorable Mayor Eileen Wright."
Although "honorable" also is applicable to the governors and lieutenant governors of most states, three statesNew Hampshire, Massachusetts and South Carolinaabide by a different convention, instead using "his excellency" or "her excellency." In a letter to a governor, "Sir," "Madam" or "Dear Governor Long" are all appropriate forms of salutation; the same convention is true for lieutenant governors.
Address state-level legislators, including state senators, assembly members, house of delegates members and state representatives, using "the honorable." You can apply that courtesy as well to city and county elected officials and top-level administrators, such as city managers.
The spouse of a public official should be addressed by a courtesy title (Mr., Mrs. or Ms.) and his or her surname ("Dear Mrs. Bush").
The complimentary title "Esquire" (which may be abbreviated "Esq.") is appropriate when addressing an envelope to a lawyer or a court clerk. Salutations for jurists may be in either of two forms: "Dear Justice Well" or "Dear Judge Bean."
Titles of academic officialsincluding those of chancellors, deans and provostsshould be retained in formal forms of address. Yes, if you're sending a letter to a college dean whose name happens to be Sarah Dean, your salutation would be "Dear Dean Dean."
Retired high-ranking officials:
Titles may be retained when addressing former high-ranking officials who have left office. An envelope to the nation's 39th president would be addressed to "The Honorable James Earl Carter," but salutation styles vary among etiquette guides. While some say the salutation in the enclosed letter should be "Dear President Carter," other guides discourage retention of titles for former officials, advocating "Dear Mr. Carter" as the proper salutation. In balance, addressing a retired official by his or her former title constitutes an acknowledgment of the individual's public service record and conveys fitting respect. The choice of whether to use or disregard the title of a retired official is at your discretion.
When making introductions, "former" is preferable to the prefix "ex-", which can introduce an unintended negative connotation. The term's association with divorce (ex-husband, ex-wife) can unwittingly imply that your guest was deposed or left office under unfavorable circumstances.
Address military officers and enlisted personnel by their full rank, full name, abbreviation of their military branch, and add the abbreviation "ret." for retirees (as in "Lieutenant Commander Quinton McHale, USN, Ret."). The salutation should address a military officer's primary rank, so a letter to Master Sergeant Ernest G. Bilko would begin, "Dear Sergeant Bilko" (although writing "Dear Master Sergeant Bilko" also would be acceptable). Similarly, use "Dear Lieutenant" for all grades of lieutenant.
Although "honorable" is applicable for American ambassadors, the terminology for foreign diplomats differs. A foreign ambassador to the United States should be addressed by "his excellency" or "her excellency." The proper way to address a British ambassador is "His Excellency, the Right Honorable Justin Case."
Royalty and nobility:
And just in case you ever find yourself in the position of meeting, introducing or corresponding with people of royalty or nobility, disregard the "hiya, queenie" greeting endorsed by the Three Stooges. Proper address is "His (or Her) Majesty" and "King (or Queen) of (name of country)." The proper salutation in a letter to royalty is Sir or Madam, or "May it please Your Majesty."
Meanwhile, back at the podium, discreetly advise Governor Midore that smoking is prohibited in the auditorium.
Yes! EditPros can help you prepare crisp, concise introductory remarks to welcome speakers.
Dave Williams submitted this month's question:
"I'm writing to have you clear up my own lifelong confusion over how to write my own name in the plural and plural possessive forms! Tell me if these are correct, please:
- Williams (singular)
- Williams's (singular possessive, except before a word beginning with "s", in which case it will be Williams')
- Williamses (plural the whole family)
- Williamses' or Williamses's? Which is correct for the plural possessive?
The grammar coach replies:
The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press (AP) Stylebook offer differing recommendations regarding possessive forms of proper names ending in "s".
Possessive for singular names ending in 's'
AP (which is applicable for newsletters and news releases) endorses adding only an apostrophe (thus, the possessive of Gus is Gus' and for Williams it is Williams'regardless of the first letter of the word that follows.
Example: "That is Gus' shovel and this is Dave Williams' wheelbarrow."
In contrast, the Chicago stylebook recommends addition of an apostrophe and an "s".
Example: "That is Gus's shovel and this is Dave Williams's wheelbarrow."
The Chicago manual does makes exceptions specifically for Jesus, Moses and multisyllabic names that have unaccented "eez"-sounding endings. Examples:
"in Jesus' name"
The Chicago manual leaves room for additional interpretation, adding that the second "s" may be dropped if dictated by "tradition and euphony"in other words, when the following word begins with a sibilant sound, as in "for righteousness' sake".
Plural for names ending in 's'
The AP and Chicago stylebooks are in agreement here; to form plurals of common nouns as well as proper names ending in "ch," "s," "sh," "ss," "x" and "z," add "es". Examples:
"the Martinezes" and "the Williamses".
Plural possessive for names ending in 's'
The AP and Chicago manuals agree that the plural possessive of proper nouns ending in "s" is formed by adding only an apostrophe to the plural form. The Chicago manual shows these examples:
"The Rosses' and the Williamses' lands" and "the Joneses' reputation".
Thanks for submitting your question, Dave!
Are you perplexed by some aspect of grammar or word usage? Don't be shy! Ask the "grammar coach" at EditPros and we'll try to helpat no charge, just for the sport of it.
Forms of address
Consult this Web site for detailed information about proper envelope and inside address, formal and informal salutations, and formal and informal close for correspondence with government officials, military personnel, members of the clergy, and individuals in selected professions.
U.S. Army Guide to Protocol
The "Guide to Protocol and Etiquette for Official Entertainment," prepared by the Office of the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, details not only proper forms of address for military and civilian officials, but also protocol for official entertaining, invitations, flag display, reception lines, banquet table seating, ceremonies, treatment of visiting dignitaries and other elements of propriety. Select the XML version for viewing on the Web, or download a PDF version to your computer.
U.S. Census FactFinder
If you want to quickly get the lowdown on any city or town in any U.S. state, take a look here. Entering the name of a city, town or ZIP code produces a statistical display listing population figures, ethnic makeup, social and economic characteristics, and housing data.
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