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How should I address a knighted academic in a letter or in an email? The person in question is a chancellor of a university, so the odds are that he has at least a PhD. He is a CEO of a multinational company, too, so it is difficult to guess whether he has been a professor at any given time (at least there's no search results for "prof. [name]").

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This is probably country dependent. –  StrongBad Jul 10 at 20:19
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If you're at a UK university, I wouldn't expect the Chancellor to be a professor or even necessarily to have a PhD. The Vice Chancellor is usually a promoted academic; the Chancellor is usually somebody from outside the academic system, appointed to represent the University. This is reinforced by him being CEO of a multinational company: such a person might have a PhD but it's very unlikely that they'd get a top position in academia (professor), leave and then work their way up to get a top position (CEO) in a completely different area. –  David Richerby Jul 11 at 8:14
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"the odds are that he has at least a PhD" -- never address someone based on a title you think they might have or ought to have. Either look up their title or just refer to them by name and the titles you know they have. Naturally the "proper" way is to look it up. –  Steve Jessop Jul 11 at 11:28
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5 Answers 5

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The canonical reference for this subject is Debrett's. They recommend that a letter to a knight should begin "Dear Sir [given name]," regardless of whether they have other titles such as "professor".

In fact, they advise against mixing titles granted by the sovereign (such as knighthoods and ranks in the armed forces) with titles not granted by the sovereign (such as professor) but, as others have observed, "Professor Sir [Given name] [Surname]" is common usage.

In an academic context, your alternative option for a salutation is "Dear Professor [Surname]". However, as I noted in a comment to the question, it's unlikely that somebody who's the CEO of a multinational company would, in fact, be a professor.

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It says "In social usage it is not uncommon to find titles conferred by the Sovereign combined with styles emanating from other sources (eg Alderman Sir William Green, and Professor Sir Edward Hailstone), though this is deprecated by purists." I don't see them making a recommendation one way or another. –  StrongBad Jul 11 at 9:21
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@StrongBad I think it's safe to assume that Debbrett's are purists but you're right that they don't make an explicit recommendation. –  David Richerby Jul 11 at 9:39
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Within my university, knighted professors tend to use the Professor Sir {calling name} {family name} form as given by EnergyNumbers but I think that it is down to personal preference.

Just to add that the Sir / Dame is associated with the first name while Professor / Dr is associated with the surname. As you asked about a letter, if you would normally put 'Dear Professor {surname}' then that would still be correct. In order to use Sir / Dame you would need to also include the first name, or only use the first name.

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You have a lot of knighted professors within your university, then? :) –  Cthulhu Jul 11 at 10:55
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@Cthulhu: it's not all that rare. People get knighted for "services to whatever their academic field is", plenty of those are also Prof. This article mentions 5 professors knighted in the last honours list (bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-27835298). There are two honours lists per year. –  Steve Jessop Jul 11 at 11:21
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In Britain, the usual form is "Professor Sir {calling name} {family name}", e.g. "Professor Sir Peter Hall".

So to start a letter or email use:

Dear Professor Sir Peter Hall

or, alternately,

Dear Professor Sir Peter

if you're already acquainted.

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I disagree, I think the Professor title is commonly dropped. –  StrongBad Jul 10 at 20:38
    
This is incorrect. You wouldn't start a letter "Dear Mr Peter Hall", so, likewise, you wouldn't use "Dear Professor Sir Peter Hall". Likewise, you wouldn't address him as "Professor Peter" if he didn't have the knighthood, so "Dear Professor Sir Peter" is also incorrect. –  David Richerby Jul 11 at 9:41
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I believe that once someone is knighted, there is considerable latitude for dropping their surname. You can and should address or refer to someone as "Sir Peter" even if you've never met them and would otherwise (if they had no knighthood) address or refer to them as "Mr Hall" (or in this case "Professor Hall"). David's reference to Debrett's suggests that the generalization does indeed apply to this specific case. –  Steve Jessop Jul 11 at 11:36
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@DavidRicherby Your basing it on "likewise" is incorrect. In the British system at least, it is standard to address a Knight as "Sir/Dame <given name>" only, both in letters and conversationally (i.e. instead of "Good morning Mr Smith", you say "Good morning Sir John"; it is never Sir Smith). –  Semaphore Jul 11 at 12:24
    
@Semaphore My "likewise" is correct. "Dear Sir Peter" is, as you say, correct; my objection was to "Dear Professor Sir Peter". –  David Richerby Jul 11 at 14:10
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In the UK, for Knighted Professors, it seems the professor title is often dropped. For example, the Sir Peter Mansfield Centre drops the professor title. Both the knightly title and the professor title can be used, for example Professor Dame Sally Davies, but it can also be omitted (http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sally_Davies_(doctor))

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This doesn't answer the question, which is about how to write the salutation of an email. The Sir Peter Mansfield Centre is an institute or building and such entities almost always drop the "Professor": this has nothing to do with the knighthood. Most buildings on campus are probably named after professors or donors; if they didn't drop "Professor", every second building would be the Professor So-and-So Building. –  David Richerby Jul 11 at 8:07
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Personally, I would always address business communications to persons based on context. If I were writing to 'Sir Professor Richard Hall' on a personal level, I would address my email 'Dear Sir Richard'. If however, the learned gentleman was a professor at my University, I would switch to his academic title, and write 'Dear Professor Hall'.

Context is key here folks.

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That would be "Professor Sir Richard Hall", not "Sir Professor". As you say, "Sir" goes with the given name and "Professor" with the surname. –  David Richerby Jul 11 at 11:57
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