The Grammarphobia Blog

Adjectively speaking

Q: Is it “Liberia President Johnson Sirleaf” or “Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf”? Similarly, is it “Algeria Department of Education” or “Algerian Department of Education”?

A: The adjective forms should be used: “Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf” and “Algerian department of education.”

But some stylebooks (the New York Times’s, for example) frown on attaching an adjective to a title, and prefer something like “President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.”

You could also use possessives: “Liberia’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf,” and “Algeria’s department of education.” Or constructions like “Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia,” and “the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”

Note the words that are lowercase. The Algerian agency isn’t officially called the “Department of Education,” so that should be lowercase (the official name in English is “Ministry of Education”).

Also, some stylebooks require capitalizing the “p” in “president” whenever it refers to a specific national leader, but others call for using an uppercase “p” only when the title precedes the name of the leader.

As you can see, these issues of style can be more art than science. If you’re writing for a publication or an organization or another enterprise, check out your stylebook for any capital quirks.

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