Engels: titels

Engelstaligen gebruiken titels op een andere manier dan Nederlanders. VU Taalcentrumvertaler Toby Adams legt dit in een paar eenvoudige regels uit – in het Engels.

Conventions surrounding the use of titles – academic or otherwise – vary considerably from country to country and from language to language. In Germany or Austria, it is fairly normal to be addressed by your full title when in the waiting room at the doctor or dentist, for example. In Australia or the UK, however, it might be seen as exaggeratedly formal to include any titles at all, except in the most formal situations such as job applications or official letters. Such matters can be highly personal, but the following basic rules apply for written communication in English, when compared to Dutch conventions.

One title

  • No multiple titles in English – you should only use one title, usually the most important one. In Dutch it is fairly common to include all the applicable titles when addressing someone in writing or signing a letter: mw. prof. dr. ir. L. R. M. J. Smits. However, in English only the most important of these would be included, in this case ‘Professor’: Prof. L. Smits. If this professor wanted to indicate her gender, she would include her first name in full, which is in any case much more common practice in English: Prof. Loes Smits or Prof. Stephen Bones.


  • Capitalize As you may have noticed in the previous example, unlike in Dutch, titles are always capitalized in English: Prof. Loes Smits or Dr. Christopher Schwarz. The same applies when using Mr, Mrs, Ms: Ms L. Smits.

No equivalent?

  • Some titles that are common in the Netherlands are untranslatable in English, since there are no direct equivalents. These include doctorandusingenieur, andmeester. The titles drs., ing. and mr. will not mean anything to English-speakers (nor indeed to most people outside the Netherlands) unless they take the trouble to go and look them up. If you feel that these titles really must be included, the best solution is to italicize them: drs. S. van der Laan or ir. F. Dijkstra.
  • Obviously, the Dutch abbreviation mr. can give rise to particular confusion as it is very similar to Mr in English and this title is therefore worth writing out in full:meester J. Mulders. Since these are ‘foreign’ titles, they do not require a capital letter.

Full stop

  • Conventions regarding the use of a full stop with abbreviated titles can vary. However, one widely accepted practice (at Taalcentrum-VU) is to include a full stop when the last letter of the abbreviation is not the last letter of the full word. Thus Prof. is written with a full stop, while Dr is without.

Full names

  • Full names In English-speaking countries, full names are used more often than initials. In the Netherlands it is quite normal to sign a letter: drs. J. J. H. Drinkwater. In English-speaking countries it would be more conventional to sign oneself: John Drinkwater.

  • Met dank aan Taalcentrum-VU voor het beschikbaar stellen van deze tips. Het Taalcentrum-VU is een zelfstandig taal- en trainingsbureau dat opereert vanuit de Vrije Universiteit en vertalingen, taal- en communicatietrainingen en tekstredactie verzorgt voor overheid en bedrijfsleven.


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