I have generally only heard people refer to professors as either "Dr. Smith" or "Prof. Smith". However, I received an email that referred to the keynote speakers at a conference as "Prof. Dr. Smith". Is this common? (It is for a conference in taking place in the EU and I am from the US if that helps).

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    It was (at least at one time) common in Germany. Herr Professor Doktor Klein. No, it is not common in the US and never was ... except maybe among German Jewish immigrants arriving here during the Nazi times.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 14:37
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    Indeed very common in Germany. If somebody earned multiple doctorates, you would list each one, so you may sometimes actually find Prof. Dr. Dr. or even Prof. Dr. Dr. Dr. Also important: that only applies to actual Dr. - in Germany, it is illegal for somebody with a Ph. D. to substitute the title Dr. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 19:08
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    @MikeHill Ordinarily, a Ph.D. is indeed equivalent to a Dr., but not in front of the law. In Germany, it is a crime to use the title Dr. when you don't have it - and there was a case a few years ago when somebody with a Ph.D. was convicted for using the Dr. The regulations are explicit about it. rp.baden-wuerttemberg.de/Themen/Bildung/Ausbildung/Documents/… page 6 : you cannot use a domestic title even if your foreign one is materially equivalent. You aren't even allowed to use the German translation; you must use the original foreign-language title. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 20:36
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    @KevinKeane it is a crime to use the title Dr. when you don't have it. Well, let's say it's a misdemeanor, or an offence. (It's a Vergehen, not a Verbrechen.)
    – sgf
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 8:15
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    @KevinKeane In your document, page 11: Danach können Inhaber des Doktorgrades „Doctor of Philosophy“, Abkürzung: „Ph.D.“ von Universitäten der sog. Carnegie-Liste anstelle der in den USA üblichen Abkürzung die Abkürzung: „Dr.“ ohne fachlichen Zusatz und ohne Herkunftsbe-zeichnung führen. Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 14:18

6 Answers 6


German academia traditionally expects that one will use all relevant titles, so Prof. Dr. is pretty common there. Likewise other places with an academic system related to Germany in some way. As you note, in the US this would be very uncommon and the two titles you mention often used interchangeably there, even when it isn't clear that both apply.

And, if I remember correctly, it is always Prof. Dr. and never Dr. Prof. since the professorship was earned after the doctorate and is a "higher level" honorific. But "Herr Prof. Dr." doesn't fit that rule, I guess.

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    This is also the usual form in the Netherlands. I guess this is covered by the 'academic system related to Germany' in so far as it's next door.
    – mfitzp
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 17:08
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    FWIW, I just randomly typed some honorifics into google and found an obituary for Prof. em. Dr. Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Dr. h.c. Dieter Schneider. Which tells us that Prof. Schneider was a former professor who earned one doctorate the usual way and was awarded an additional four honorary doctorates. (However, note that an obituary is of course an extremely formal situation. You would not have addressed him that way, you would have addressed him as Prof. Dr. or maybe Prof. em. Dr. if you wanted to emphasize that he is retired.) Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 19:56
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    And just to add to the last comment, the commonly used formal way to list multiple honorary degrees in Germany would be Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. mult. Schneider. Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 20:07
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    @JörgWMittag I take it that h. c. stands for honoris causa? Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 21:04
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    I'd like to add that this is common in formal situations. I'd expect to hear "Prof. Dr. X" in the introduction of the speaker before the award lecture at a conference, but an introduction in the coffee break by a 3rd person to be maybe "Prof. X" if not Herr/Frau X. If Prof. Dr. X introduces themselves in the coffee break, that would often be a handshake with e.g. "X, angenehm" (= "X, nice [to meet you]").
    – cbeleites
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 10:19

Background. In Italy, Dottore (short version dr. or dott.) refers to those who hold either a bachelor's degree, or a graduate degree, or a Ph.D., or those who are physicians.

Reply. Those who both serve as physicians and teach at medical school are commonly regarded as Prof. Dott. or Prof. Dr.


Yes, it is common to use both, and the reason is that these are two completely different categories. Doctorates are academic degrees that come in different flavors including "Dr. h.c." and "Dr. habil.". They indicate the academic level, just like Bachelor or Master degrees. For academic degrees, you typically use all degrees on the highest level, so you don't mention a Master degree when someone also holds a PhD, but you mention all doctorates. "Professor" on the other hand is (in almost all cases) an official title which you mention just like you would always refer to a judge as "Judge XXX", whether or not he/she's holds a PhD. That also explains the order: Titles come first, and you lose them when you lose the job. Degrees become part of the name (so to say, until recently, it was possible to have them on your ID card.)

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    Common in Germany, unheard of elsewhere
    – user104070
    Commented Feb 20, 2019 at 21:52
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    @GeorgeM Also common in Belgium. Most of my professors signed everything, even their class handouts, with Prof. Dr. Ir. because they were all professors after doing a doctorate after receiving their engineering titles.
    – DonFusili
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 8:15
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    @DonFusili Where have you seen this in Belgium? In my experience it is done in Dutch-speaking Belgian universities but never in French-speaking ones.
    – Arnaud D.
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 11:03
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    @GeorgeM it's common wherever Professor is not essentially a synonym for Teacher.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 13:27
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    @OrangeDog Nope. "Prof Dr" is never used in the UK, where, in most universities, "professor" is only used for the most senior academics. Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 15:14

All the other answers focus on the formal importance of titles and etiquette in German speaking countries. While refering to a person by his/her titles is normal, has not to be taken too far.

Still the level of formality isn't always the same. While the name and titles on a board can be meter long, normally an entitled person is approached by students as Herr/Frau followed by the most prestigious title and that suffices.

Professor will work well in your case. And this depends on situations, too. You might be for a beer after session and call American professors by name, it could be seen bizarre to switch to professor even, not to mention Mr or Sir professor :)

The language will often,if not always, be English, and somehow the level of formality goes along with.

I have worked in Austria and visited Germany. I never heard of herr Prof. Dr. or viceversa if not in pompous presentation as in special academic events. For sure students do not approach someone using two titles.

So there is nothing to worry about.

Edit: driven by other answers and comments I have focused on german speaking academia. I see the Q is more general. In a way the answer is still valid as Professor serves well the purpose of directly speaking to whom has that title (for foreigners, europeans or not, in Europe). Again printed material, official listing, ecc. might well detail all the titles. So Prof. Dr. might be encountered, but it will be always in the same fashion as the OP has already experienced, namely a third person or a third inanimate thing as a board introducing you an entitled person.

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    +1. OP mentions an email introducing the keynote speaker - in my experience that's one of the special events where one would mention ALL titles.
    – Sabine
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 11:26
  • @Sabine. Indeed I've formulated my answer as if the OP is going to meet a German professor in person. If it is matter of addressing in letter and email, I would write dear Professor, still. While for organizational things would be safe to list all. Though I doubt that someone sitting in Italy or America would be responsible for, say, printing the badges for a conference in Berlin. Otherwise if a I print a flyer yes, all titles needed especially if the happening is in Germany. Hope our comments complement the answer.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 11:48

In academic settings, a professor, also known as a full professor, is the highest rank a Professor can acquire. A Ph.D. is generally a minimum prerequisite for obtaining the title of Professor within a university. So, writing Prof.Dr. is just redundancy. Just like saying (Person.Mr. or Person.Ms.)

German Academy may that be the exception that uses it.

Other ranks are assistant professor or associate professor, but below the rank of professor.

Unfortunately, it sometimes happens that people who were assistant professors for three months 20 years ago write as professors, hiding behind the ignorance of some readers. They are just playing a fallacy.


According to the Cambridge dictionary, a Professor is defined as "a teacher of the highest rank in a department of a British university, or a teacher of high rank in an American university or college."

Similarly, Merriam-Webster describes a Professor as "a faculty member of the highest academic rank at an institution of higher education" or "a teacher at a university, college, or sometimes secondary school" who possesses specialized knowledge or skill in a particular field.


I have personally never seen Prof. Dr. X. At least from my experience Prof. is reserved for those who are teaching a course, but do not have a Ph.D. degree (graduate students teaching intro level undergrad courses) or faculty members who only have a MA/MS degree. Dr. in contrast is used for people who have a Ph.D. degree.

  • Matter here is about persons who are professor. While in many countries a teacher can be called professor, the actual case is quite different. While a person might be called professor in german high school I have no idea. Surely at german universities a teacher is not called professor. Is not exactly but quite opposite to what your answer suggests.
    – Alchimista
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 10:24
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    @Alchimista The only people called Professor in Germany are actual professors. Period. A teacher, highschool or otherwise, is never called Professor.
    – user9482
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 10:32
  • Even better for the sense of my comment. @Roland
    – Alchimista
    Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 10:35
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    In the US, grad students spend half their time trying to get first-year undergraduates to stop calling them "professor." The title professor is not generally used for grad students or anybody who is not, in fact, a professor. Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 10:57
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    Where are you from? In the U.S., nobody from my school calls me "Doctor". It's always "Professor" (unless it's just my first name). Commented Feb 21, 2019 at 12:07

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