When to Capitalize

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One of our writing coaches asked for a blog article on capitalization, and I am happy to oblige. I’ve tried to keep this short and sweet, for easy reference:

Rules for Capitalization

1. The first word of a sentence
  • My knuckles itch.
  • Without lip gloss, life would be much harder.

2. The pronoun I

I wish I could see what I look like in that outfit I bought when I went shopping in that store I like.

3.  Proper nouns

Proper nouns name specific people,  places and organizations.

  • I climbed many mountains this week, including Mt. Everest, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Mt. McKinley.
  • My friend Paul is a member of the the Young Republicans.
4. The first and all other important words in titles

Don’t capitalize short prepositions or articles.

The Catcher in the Rye     “The Road Not Taken”   The Lord of the Rings   “Rock Around the Clock”

5. The first letter of the first word in a direct quote

John answered, “That’s not my problem. It’s yours.”

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6. Titles when occurring just prior to a name, when following a name on an address or signature line, and when used as a direct address

Titles after names used descriptively are not capitalized.

  • I guessed Colonel Mustard killed him in the library with a candlestick.
  • Stan Mikowski is chairman of the football boosters.
  • Excuse me, Professor, is that llama wearing your tweed jacket?
  • Vernon Applegate, Sales Director
7. The names of the God of the Bible, other deities, and religious figures

Don’t capitalize god or gods when used non-specifically.

  • The Lord is the most common name for God in the Bible.
  • In the library stand statues of the Virgin Mary, the Buddha, and various Greek gods and heroes.
8. The names of countries, nationalities, and specific languages
  • People from the Netherlands are referred to as Dutch.
  • I studied German in college, but I remember very little.
9. Family relationships when used like proper names.

Do not capitalize family relationships when used generally.

  • I am looking for Grandfather.
  • I am looking for my grandfather.
  • I am looking forward to seeing Uncle Garry at Christmas, but my other aunts and uncles.
10. Directions when used to indicate particular geographic areas.

Do not capitalize compass directions when used as adjectives or adverbs.

  • My parents are from the Northwest, but I’ve lived most of my life in the South.
  • Head east after you pass Cherry Hill Road.
  • I prefer the west side of town.
11. Days of the week, months of the year, and holidays.

Do not capitalize the seasons.

Monday, Friday, February, October, Christmas, Memorial Day, winter, fall

Exception: Capitalize seasons when part of a title, like a course title or session.

  • I graduate after the Fall 2012 semester.
  • I passed the Spring Composition 1 course.

12. Historical periods and events

Do not capitalize centuries or decades generally.

  • The American Civil War took place during the Victorian Era in England.
  • The Great Depression occurred in the middle of the twentieth century.
  • My parents experienced the Civil Rights Movement of the fifties and sixties.
13. Abbreviations and acronyms of specific names.

UCLA   NAACP   CBS   TARP   NASA  OPEC

14. Certain eponyms

An eponym is a word derived from a person’s name, a particular place, or people group. Most eponyms are capitalized, but some are so common they lose the association with the person or place they were named after and they become regular lowercase words. Check a dictionary if you are not sure.

  • Capitalized: Marxism, Shakespearean, Obamacare, Achilles heel, Caesar salad, Alzheimer’s disease 
  • Not Capitalized: diesel engine,  pasteurize,  aspirin, bohemian, philistine

15. Trademarks

Pepsi     Five Guys     Nike     Exxon     WriteAtHome

16. National, political, racial, social, civic, musical and athletic groups

Basically the names of any particular groups.

The Republican Party, The Boy Scouts, Native Americans, Freemasons, The Rolling Stones, The Philadelphia Phillies

17. The first word of a salutation and complimentary close

Dear Tom:       Yours Truly,      Sincerely,

18. The titles of specific courses and language courses

Do not capitalize general course titles.

I need an English and a history credit after I get through Economics 201.

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Do you have rules to add? Any questions? Please use the comment section below. I will be happy to update this list of rules!

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian Wasko

Brian is the founder and president of WriteAtHome.com. One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.

View all posts by Brian Wasko

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