English Grammar: Capitalization Rules

Updated on September 30, 2016
LindaSarhan profile image

L. Sarhan has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing and plans for an M.A. in English with a concentration in literature and theory.

The English language can be quite complex. Most people don't really think about it in daily speech but when it comes to the written word, there are countless amounts of grammatical rules to follow. Capitalization rules are no exception. There are dozens of grammar rules to follow when it comes to what should be capitalized and what should not.

Beginning of the Sentence

Always start a sentence with a capital letter. The first word, regardless of what it is, should always be capitalized.

Example:

The train echoed in the distance.

Proper Nouns

Capitalize all proper nouns. Proper nouns are names of people, places and things, should therefore always be capitalized.

Example:

1. The city of Alexandria, Egypt is a hub for tourism.

Words that derive from proper nouns should be capitalized. For instance, foreign languages should be capitalized because they originate from a particular country which would be considered a proper noun.

Examples:

1. The word English is capitalized because it comes from the proper noun England.

2. The word Spanish is capitalized because it originates from Spain.

Capitalize the names of days, months, holidays and specific events. These are considered proper nouns and name specific days, months and holidays.

Examples:

1. Sandra is off work on Saturday and Sunday.

2. Billy's birthday is in May.

3. Philip's favorite holiday is Halloween.

The Personal Pronoun I

Always capitalize the pronoun I. There is no exception to this rule.

Example:

1. Toni and I went shopping together.

Capitalizing Name Titles

All titles should be capitalized when it comes before a name. Because it comes before a name, it becomes part of a proper noun, such as Mrs. Smith, Dr. Thompson, and Mr. Jones. However, if the title comes after the name, it is generally not capitalized.

Examples:

1. Dr. Howard treated Mrs. Reid during her seizures.

2. Glen Howard, doctor in neuroscience, has made great strides in his research.

High-Ranking Officials

Capitalize the title of high-ranking government officials regardless of whether the title is used with or before their names. However, you do not have to capitalize civil titles when used instead of the name.

Examples:

1. Governor Bradley signed the bill into state law today.

2. All of the senators were expected to attend.

Addresses, Salutations, and Signature Lines

Capitalize the first word in an opening salutation and in a closing salutation. Capitalize a person's title when it follows the name on a signature line or as a part of an address.

Examples:

1. Tom Belvins, Chairperson

1134 Main Street

Anywhere USA 12345

2. Dear Mr. Fallon,

3. Sincerely,

Tom Belvins, Chairperson

Direct Address Titles

You should also capitalize a title when it used as a direct address, such as Mr. President or Madame Chancellor. You should also capitalize relatives if it functions as their name. For example, if are simply referring to your mom and dad, then there is no need to capitalize. However, if you are using the words as names, then definitely capitalize.

Examples:

1. I will have to ask my mom and dad.

2. Will you help me study, Mom?

3. Is Uncle Jon coming over for dinner?

Official Governmental Names

You should capitalize federal, state, city, or other official governmental names. If used in general reference, there is no need to capitalize.

Examples:

1. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking into the mass shooting incident.

2. This is considered a federal offense.

Business Related Titles

Also capitalize names of bureaus, departments or other business related titles. However, if it is being used as a general reference there is no need for capitalization.

Examples:

1. The Department of Education is looking at implementing new curriculum.

2. There is a job opening in the department.

Names of business products should always be capitalized. This is the name of a brand usually with a company logo.

Examples:

1. Dodge Ram truck

2. Kraft cheese

3. Whirlpool dishwasher.

Publication Titles

Publication titles, such as books, articles and songs should be capitalized. This includes all the words, even the short verbs, such as is, be and are. The only words that are not capitalized in a publication title are articles, some conjunctions and prepositions with fewer than five letters. These include the, a, an, but, and, of, for, as, if and or to name a few. The only time these are capitalized is if they are at the start of the title.

The only exception to this capitalization rule is regarding Associated Press (AP) style. They advise only capitalizing the first letter of a title to an article unless it contains proper noun, in which the proper nouns should also be capitalized.

Examples:

1. The Day the Lights Went Out

2. A Tale of Two Cities

3. The affect Facebook has on society.

Course Titles

Specific course titles are capitalized. There is some confusion when it comes to this rule. Keep in mind that course titles that are capitalized are naming a specific course, which in turn makes them a title as well as a proper noun.

Examples:

1. social studies

2. World Geography

3. science

4. Microbiology I

Religion

You should capitalize the religions, holy books, holy days and names of specific deities. However, you should not capitalize the general use of the word god.

Examples:

1. There is none worthy of worship other than Allah.

2. Thou shall put no other gods before Allah.

3. The Holy Qur'an is a sacred text for Muslims.

4. During the month of Ramadan, most Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset.

5. Worship services are different between Episcopalians and Baptists.

Directions

When it comes to directions, such as north, south, east and west, you should capitalize the specific direction when it specifies a name of an area or a region of a city or country. However, when referring to the cardinal points of a compass, there is no need for capitalization.

Examples:

1. Tina is from the South.

2. Turn north at the next light.

Seasons

Do not capitalize names of season. The only exception to this rule is if it is a part of an event title.

Examples:

1. Bears hibernate in the winter.

2. The community gathers together at the annual Big Spring Jam.

Quotations

Always capitalize the first word after a quotation mark. When including a direct quote within a sentence you would use a comma, then a quotation mark, followed by capitalizing the first word in the quotation.

Example:

1. Before I go," he said and paused, "I may kiss her?" (from A Tale of Two Cities)

Colons

There is no need to capitalize after using a colon if it is a list of people, things, places or ideas.

Example:

1. Tara had several items on her grocery list that included: eggs, milk, bread, cheese and coffee.

Do not capitalize after a colon if it includes on one sentence after the colon. However, if there will be two or more sentences after the colon, then you will capitalize the first word.

Example:

1. I loved Emily Bronte's novel: her book, Wuthering Heights, was very engaging.

Colons Used in Titles

According to the Associated Press (AP), when using a colon in a title you should only capitalize the first word of the title and the first word after the colon unless it contains proper nouns, which should always be capitalized.

Example:

1. Animal facts: Pygmy monkey

2. Book review: Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling

Abbreviations

Most abbreviations are capitalized. However, some abbreviations are not capitalized. As previously mentioned, abbreviations of titles are capitalized. Also when an abbreviation or acronym is used to replace the name of something, it is capitalized. State abbreviation used as two letter postal codes, both letters are capitalized. With regular three letter state abbreviations, which are used primarily with AP style, only the first letter is capitalized. Abbreviations that are not capitalized are general those used for measurements and time.

Examples: M.D., Ph.D., FBI, ACLU, KY, AZ, Ala., Ark., yd, lb, cm, a.m., p.m.

Races and Nationalities

Capitalize the names of races, nationalities, and peoples.

Examples:

Races - Caucasian, Hispanic

Nationalities - Egyptian, French

Peoples - Cheyenne, Bedouin

Celestial Bodies

Capitalize the name of celestial bodies, such as stars, planets, and other celestial bodies.

Examples: Jupiter, Milky Way, Orion, and KY Cygni

Historic Events

Historic events and time periods are also capitalized.

Examples: Boston Tea Party, Civil War, Stone Age, and Mesozoic Era.

There are many more capitalization rules depending upon the style you chose to use. For instance, these follow the Standard American English rulings but there are also the Associated Press guidelines as well as Standard British English. So in essence, it depends on what you are writing and who you are writing for. In America, you will find that the Standard American English rules apply in most public schools and the work place. However, in American colleges they usually require students to use Modern Language Association format (MLA). In England, the British English standards apply. For journalists, they typically follow the Associated Press guidelines.

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 L Sarhan

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Alwifitness 

        3 years ago

        Very informative, although nothing new. I have to on this subject every time I come across it. It is very easy to forget these rules. JazakAllah kheer.

      • torrilynn profile image

        torrilynn 

        3 years ago

        Great and very useful.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        3 years ago from Ontario, Canada

        Really useful given that current online media seems to have given up these rules.

      • tobusiness profile image

        Jo Alexis-Hagues 

        3 years ago from Lincolnshire, U.K

        This is a very useful hub, well done.

        Voting up and sharing.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        3 years ago from SW England

        Absolutely brilliant! I'm so glad to see someone coming up with a useful, well-presented, informative hub in the grammar field.

        I have written some myself and it's so difficult not to be boring. I love the 'MINTS' mnemonic and I'm surprised I haven't come across it before so thanks for that. Up++ and shared.

        Well done!

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