Rules for Capitalization

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The rules for when to capitalize are numerous. Below you’ll find the basics. If you come across a situation I haven’t covered, please be so kind as to tell me in the comments; I’ll be happy to include more rules if they will be helpful.

Note: Be aware that when we say capitalize, we mean “capitalize the first letter of.” It’s therefore redundant to say, “Capitalize the first letter of the word.” To indicate that all the letters of a word are made capital, we would say it is written “in all capitals” or “in all caps” for short.

The First Word of a Sentence

Always capitalize the first word of a sentence:

Nobody likes smog.

Quotations

Capitalize the first word of a quotation if it begins a complete sentence. If, however, the quoted words are only part of a sentence, you should not capitalize:

Capitalize: Mary Walters said, “This generation lives in a cocoon of intolerance.”

Don’t Capitalize: Mary Walters said that this generation lives in a “cocoon of intolerance.”

Don’t capitalize the continuation of a quoted sentence that has been interrupted:

“I told you,” Martha insisted, “that I would sweep the kitchen.”

I and O

Always capitalize the pronoun I and the interjection O:

I said I would write soon and I did.

O, my beloved hamster, you are so furry.

It’s not necessary to capitalize the interjection oh, unless it starts a sentence or stands alone as a sentence.

Capitalize:                   Oh, now I understand!

Capitalize:                   Oh! The party is on the roof!

Don’t Capitalize:        But, oh, her memory lingers.

Proper Nouns

Nouns that name particular people, places, and things are called proper nouns and should be capitalized. Common nouns, naming general people, places, and things, should not be capitalized.

Common (Don’t Capitalize)

Proper (Capitalize)

friend, doctor, singer, athlete Bubba, Dr. Winchester, Lady Gaga, Tiger Woods
city, state, lake, street, mountain, country, hotel, stadium, museum Saskatchewan,  Texas, Lake Pitney, Walnut Avenue, Mount McKinley, India, The Ritz-Carleton, Veteran’s Stadium, The Louvre
building, school, ketchup Empire State Building, Clover Hill High School, Heinz Ketchup
Proper Adjectives

Capitalize adjectives formed from proper nouns, but don’t capitalize the articles that introduce them (a, an, the):

  • the Mexican restaurant         
  • a Latin accent           
  • an Earth-friendly factory

Sometimes words become so common that they are no longer associated with the proper noun. These words are not capitalized. That’s why we don’t capitalize french fries.

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Titles

Titles of books, articles, magazines, poems, songs, movies, and other published works are capitalized according to simple rules:

1) Capitalize the first letter of the first and last word, including subtitles.

2) Capitalize all words other than articles, short prepositions*, and conjunctions.

Examples:

  • “The Lottery”
  • A Midsummer Night’s Dream
  • The Mayor of Casterbridge
  • “Rock Around the Clock”
  • Albert Einstein: In Search of Relativity

*Authorities differ on prepositions in titles. Some capitalize prepositions of five or more letters. The AP capitalizes if they have four or more. The MLA doesn’t capitalize any mid-title prepositions regardless of length. We’ll leave this decision up to you.

Don’t Capitalize for Emphasis

In formal writing, avoid using all capitals to emphasize a word or phrase in your writing.

Wrong:           Then I noticed he had pulled the WRONG TOOTH!

Right:              Then I noticed he had pulled the wrong tooth!

Don’t Capitalize Randomly

Don’t capitalize random or arbitrary letters or words. Some students, when handwriting, like to make certain letters capital all the time. In formal writing, always follow capitalization rules.

I saw my cousiN yesterDay at the Bakery.

Capitalize the days of the week and months of the year
  • Monday          
  • Thursday        
  • February         
  • November
Seasons

Do not capitalize the names of the seasons.

  • spring             
  • summer          
  • winter             
  • fall
Geographical Regions

Do not capitalize geographical directions unless referring to a known region.

  • east                
  • north              
  • the South        
  • the Midwest
Personal Titles

Capitalize titles when used before a name or for titles of great importance.

Not Capitalized: the secretary, professor, general, president, chairman , delegate

Capitalized: Secretary Smith, Professor Carr, General Lee, President of the United States, the Pope

Family Relationships

Capitalize terms denoting family relationship when used before a name or in place of a name:

Not Capitalized:  Peter is my favorite uncle.        My dad can beat up your dad.

Capitalized:  I can’t wait to see Uncle Peter.        I’m telling Dad about this.

 Academic Years

Do not capitalize terms denoting academic years.

  • freshman                    
  • sophomore                
  • junior             
  • senior
 Academic Subjects

Do not capitalize names of academic subjects except for languages and when giving the title of a specific course.

  • biology                       
  • algebra                       
  • French            
  • Economics 101
Races, Religions, and Groups

Capitalize names of specific racial, religious and other groupings of people:

  • African American                   
  • Arab               
  • Caucasian                   
  • Mormon                     
Sacred Works

Capitalize the words Bible, Scripture, and the titles of other sacred works, but not the adjectives biblical or scriptural.

  • I am trying to read through the Bible this year.
  • I wonder what the Koran has to say about it.
  • He made several biblical references.
Pronouns Referring to God

Although customary in some religious settings, it is not standard usage to capitalize pronouns referring to God:

When I pray to God, I feel like he is listening.

The Lord is seated on his throne.

Texting and Social Media

It is common in informal contexts like text messaging and social media posting to skip capitals altogether. This is often fine – as long as you remember your audience and the context of your communication. Some adults, educators, or business people may prefer that even informal communications follow capitalization conventions.

Keep in mind that public forums like social media sites can be viewed by anyone. It is increasingly common, for example, for college admissions officers and employers to view the social media pages of applicants. When you post online, remember that your audience may be broader than you intend. Be careful how you present yourself.

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If anything needs clarification, or if you have a question about capitalization not answered above, please leave a comment below!

About the Author

Brian Wasko

Brian WaskoBrian 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

  1. Spencer
    Spencer08-14-2016

    Thanks for this helpful list, as well as answering the unusual questions in the comments! I have one of my own to add.

    In popular writing, the prefix “eco” seems to be tacked on to everything, Eco-friendly, Eco-savvy, anything you can think of. Even as I write this question, my autocorrect is trying to capitalize every instance, but is this correct? When should this prefix be capitalized, and when can it just remain a lower-case instance.

    On a slightly different note, do you have rules for when a hyphen should be used and when it should be avoided with the “eco” prefix? It’s used in so many ways these days it seems to confound the usual hyphen rules!

    Help!!

    And thanks!

  2. Natalie Ray
    Natalie Ray01-12-2016

    Hi Brian,
    Great page, I found it to be very helpful as I wrote a short story about my workplace..

  3. Brenda
    Brenda11-08-2015

    Hi Brian,

    In editing the following, I believe the word “scripture” should be lowercase. Do you agree? If we were talking about “the Scripture” (the Bible) I would automatically capitalize.

    ***********************************************************************************************************
    “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them -those who are mistreated- since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).

    We don’t take this Scripture lightly.

    ***********************************************************************************************************
    Thank you for your help.

    Brenda

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko11-09-2015

      I agree, Brenda. I usually capitalize Scripture when speaking generally about the Bible. One wouldn’t capitalize the word verse here, and that’s what the writer means. There is some disagreement on issues like this, however, as some writers capitalize words related to God and the Bible as a way of showing honor (rather than for strictly grammatical purposes). My church tends to capitalize even pronouns referring to God on song sheets and such. I think it’s unnecessary, but as long as they are consistent, it doesn’t bother me.

  4. Jerwin Morales
    Jerwin Morales05-01-2015

    Thank you for this Brian. God bless!

  5. Andrea Robinson
    Andrea Robinson10-11-2014

    This is a great resource! Thank you so much.

    I especially appreciated the section on capitalizing religious works. I’m working on an article right now and one sentence is, “I used this book as my bible.”

    Should “bible” be capitalized in this usage?

    Thank you ever so much. It’s a breath of fresh air to have clarity on these topics.

    🙂

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko10-13-2014

      Good question.

      I have a feeling there would be some disagreement on this, but I think you would not capitalize bible in that circumstance, since you are using the title in a figurative sense. I can’t say I’m entirely confident of this advice, however. You are, after all, making a comparison to the literal Bible. I’m pretty sure you could make a good argument either way. 🙂

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko10-13-2014

      Did some research. Fowlers’s says lowercase in this usage. The AP stylebook agrees.

  6. Paul O'Rear
    Paul O'Rear01-15-2014

    What source do you use as your standard for style rules? Do most of the rules listed here come from that source, or are they a mashup of rules you’ve accumulated from various sources?

  7. Evelyn A. Hyman
    Evelyn A. Hyman11-12-2013

    Great information. It was very interesting and informative. Do they still teach this in school?

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko11-12-2013

      I’m sure it depends on the school, Evelyn. Thanks for your nice comments.

  8. ATB
    ATB10-23-2013

    What is the rule here? I went to The Louvre museum in Paris, France.
    or I went to The Louvre Museum in Paris, France. Sometimes museum is capitalized while other times it is not. Thank you

    • Trina
      Trina04-21-2014

      It would depend on whether museum is part of the name or not. In this case, you could probably leave off museum altogether and say … The Louvre in Paris, France. Museum is a description of the place and is unnecessary. You can use a similar attraction to determine whether to use museum or not, i.e. would you say, “I went to the Arc de Triomphe monument” or “I wen to the Arc de Triomphe”? Hope that helps.

  9. Amanda Campbell
    Amanda Campbell03-23-2013

    I’ve always had a hard time with capitalization rules, so this is helpful.

  10. Rhonda Barfield
    Rhonda Barfield03-20-2013

    This is the best, most thorough list I’ve read in some time.

    • Brian Wasko
      Brian Wasko03-20-2013

      Thanks, Rhonda. Let me know if there’s something I should add though.

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