Sir McCartney…?

Nope. On the rare occasions you’re referring to somone with the title, it goes with the first name: Sir Paul. Otherwise ‘sir’ is a standalone without any name attached.

Okay, you aren’t going to come across someone who’s genuinely a ‘Sir’ very often. So how would you know? But the word turns up more often than you might think.

  • the formal title ‘Sir’ is always capitalized: Sir Elton John, Sir Paul McCartney.
  • it stays with the forename only: he’s Sir Paul but still Mr McCartney
  • it’s used standalone e.g. in addressing letters. If your letter is to an ordinary guy called Colin, it’s “Dear Colin” or “Dear sir” but definitely not “Dear Sir Colin”
  • US English tends to capitalize the ‘Sir’ even when it’s standalone; UK English generally doesn’t

And on the even rarer occasions when somebody has two titles, a “Sir” sticks like glue to the first name. No, I don’t know why. My chemistry tutor was Professor Sir Jack Lewis, for instance, and “Sir Jack” to his face – even for the students. Or “Professor Lewis”, of course.

Prevalence: moderate. Usually when people are trying to be overly polite in a formal letter or e-mail.
Frequency: low. Once only in any given document, generally.
Native: no. That’s why it sounds so silly and gives us a giggle.

Published by Mike Wilkinson

Twenty years of translating and editing Dutch into English, as well as writing and publishing in English.

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