Capitalization style for words and phrases related to legislation and international agreements is fairly straightforward, but here are some notes about treatment:
The phrase “US Constitution” (or “United States Constitution,” though the form with initials alone is sufficient) should be capitalized as such, as should names of state constitutions (“the California Constitution,” for example), but the word on its own is lowercased even as a subsequent reference to a specific document. The same is true of a word for components of a constitution, such as article.
Names of specific amendments to the US Constitution are capitalized, but whether words or numerals are used to indicate them is contingent on which authority is used: The Chicago Manual of Style, the style manual of record for book publishers, calls for generally spelling out numbers up to one hundred, but the Associated Press Stylebook, which prescribes style for newspapers (some magazines and many Web sites adhere to it as well), uses numerals for 10 and up. So, write “Thirteenth Amendment” or “13th Amendment” according to the style your self-selected or externally appointed style guide recommends.
Proposed amendments to the Constitution are often identified by their chief proponent (for example, “the Bricker Amendment”) or their aims (“the Equal Rights Amendment,” though some people argue that because there is no such amendment, only a movement to pass one, it should not be validated with capitalization).
Bills and Acts
A proposal for a new law enacted by the US Congress is offered as a bill. A bill proposed in the House of Representatives is given the body’s initials and a number (HR 99), followed by the name of the bill; a Senate is identified similarly (S 13).
(As with US and other abbreviations, the initials are often followed by periods, but this style is unnecessary.
) This style isn’t exactly mirrored in state and local legislation; for example, in the California Assembly, the local equivalent of the House of Representatives, a bill is abbreviated AB (for “Assembly Bill.”)
If passed, the bill becomes an act, such as the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Repeal Act of 2010. (Note that the year of enactment is often but not always part of the official name of the act.
) In generic usage, even to a specific act, the word act is lowercased, though many legislative bodies and associated publications capitalize it when it refers to a specific act, as in “The Act would reverse a long-standing military policy that discriminates against gay service personnel.”
Many other names for legislation exist, including code, ordinance, and statute. These words are capitalized as part of the name of a body of laws, such as “Civil Code” or “Municipal Code,” but are otherwise lowercased.
Treaties and Such
Nomenclature for treaties includes formal and informal styles. For example, one notable example’s formal name is the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, but the treaty associated with the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks is informally called the SALT treaty (with treaty lowercased because that is not the official name).
A similar international understanding is referred to as an agreement, as in “the Sykes-Picot Agreement.
” Then there is an armistice, which is merely a cessation of hostilities that may or may not be followed by a peace treaty.
Many notable armistices have occurred, requiring specific nomenclature such as “the Korean War Armistice Agreement,” but the default event, that formalizing the end of World War I, is referred to simply as “the Armistice.”
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When Should I Capitalize "Constitution"?
Patrick C. asked,“When discussing a Constitutional Amendment, is it instead a 'constitutional amendment'?”
“Constitutional” is lowercase because it is an adjective, but sometimes “constitution” should be capitalized.
When you're using “constitution” descriptively, it's also lowercase:
- The chess club needed a new constitution.
- We should look that up in our constitution.
In the U.S., when you're referring to the specific founding document we refer to as the Constitution, it is capitalized:
- George Washington's name is the first signature on the Constitution.
- We can't wait to see the original Constitution when we visit the National Archives.
- To directly answer Patrick's question, he should write that something is a “constitutional amendment”—lowercase.
Capitalization in English
For capitalization guidelines on Wikipedia, see Wikipedia:Manual of Style (capital letters).
Use of a capital letter at the head of a word
The capital letter “A” in the Latin alphabet followed by its lower case equivalent.
Capitalization or capitalisation in English grammar is the use of a capital letter at the head of a word. English usage varies from capitalization in other languages.
History of English capitalization
Capitalization in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (Ellesmere Manuscript, about 1400)
Old English did not have a distinction between uppercase and lowercase, and at best had embossed or decorated letters indicating sections. Middle English capitalization in manuscripts remained haphazard, and was often done for visual aesthetics more than grammar; in poetry, the first letter of each line of verse is often capitalized. With the development of the printing press in Europe and England capitalization of initial letters and proper nouns became more regularized, perhaps partly to distinguish new sentences in a time where punctuation remained sparse and irregularly used. The plays of Shakespeare show capitalization both of new lines and sentences, proper nouns, and some significant common nouns and verbs.
Capitalization in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (Bodleian First Folio)
With the influence of continental printing practices after the English Restoration in 1688 printing began to favor more and more capitalization of nouns following German typography. The first lines of the U.S.
Constitution of 1787 show major capitalization of most nouns: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” But by the end of the 18th century with the growth of prescriptive dictionaries and style manuals for English usage, the practice faded in Britain so that by the beginning of the 19th century common nouns were only occasionally capitalized, such as in advertisements. Yet the style lasted as late as the Civil War era in the United States, as some of Emily Dickinson's poems still capitalize many common nouns.
When to capitalize
Capital letters are used:
- at the beginning of a sentence. This in printing is known as sentence case, where the first letter of the sentence is capitalized, and all others are lower case with the exception of proper nouns. In printing normal sentence case may be substituted by UPPER CASE or “all caps” (all letters are capitalized), and Title Case (where the first letter of each word is capitalized). Capitals are sometimes used and sometimes not used after a colon, although they are used in some citation systems such as APA style when beginning an independent clause.
- with some nouns and adjectives, usually if a noun indicates a proper noun.
- pronoun “I”. One theory for this unusual usage is that in early printing lowercase i was confused with words using i as a past participle marker or first letter.
- personal and place names: “John”, “Mr. Smith”, “Amsterdam”, “Europe”, “Mount Everest”, “the Ganges”.
- compass directions when referring to geographical regions: “Western Canada”, “I was raised in the South”, but not for points on a compass: “London is west of Berlin”.
- national and regional adjectives: “an American” (noun), “an American man” (adjective).
- religions: “an Anglican curate”, “a Catholic church” (adjective), but not “a catholic gesture” in the sense of “universal.”
- the Supreme Being, deities and personifications: “God”, “Providence”, “Fame”.
- reverential pronouns: “His, Him” when referring to God or Christ
- days and months: “Monday”, “January”, but not seasons such as “autumn”.
- brand names: “Toyota”, “Nike”, “Coca-Cola”, unless the brand itself is purposely not capitalized or unusually capitalized: “iPhone”, “eBay”.
- royal titles: “King George III” but “kings and queens of England”, but only sometimes 'sir' or 'madam'.
Capitalization is the writing of a word with its first letter in uppercase and the remaining letters in lowercase. Experienced writers are stingy with capitals. It is best not to use them if there is any doubt.
Rule 1. Capitalize the first word of a document and the first word after a period.
Rule 2. Capitalize proper nouns—and adjectives derived from proper nouns.
- Examples: the Golden Gate Bridge the Grand Canyon a Russian song a Shakespearean sonnet
- a Freudian slip
- With the passage of time, some words originally derived from proper nouns have taken on a life, and authority, of their own and no longer require capitalization.
- Examples: herculean (from the mythological hero Hercules) quixotic (from the hero of the classic novel Don Quixote) draconian (from ancient-Athenian lawgiver Draco)
The main function of capitals is to focus attention on particular elements within any group of people, places, or things. We can speak of a lake in the middle of the country, or we can be more specific and say Lake Michigan, which distinguishes it from every other lake on earth.
Capitalization Reference List
- Brand names
- Days of the week and months of the year
- Governmental matters Congress (but congressional), the U.S. Constitution (but constitutional), the Electoral College, Department of Agriculture. Note: Many authorities do not capitalize federal or state unless it is part of the official title: State Water Resources Control Board, but state water board; Federal Communications Commission, but federal regulations.
- Historical episodes and eras the Inquisition, the American Revolutionary War, the Great Depression
- Institutions Oxford College, the Juilliard School of Music
- Manmade structures the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the Titanic
- Manmade territories Berlin, Montana, Cook County
- Natural and manmade landmarks Mount Everest, the Hoover Dam
- Nicknames and epithets Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson; Babe Ruth, the Sultan of Swat
- Organizations American Center for Law and Justice, Norwegian Ministry of the Environment
- Planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, but policies vary on capitalizing earth, and it is usually not capitalized unless it is being discussed specifically as a planet: We learned that Earth travels through space at 66,700 miles per hour.
- Races, nationalities, and tribes Eskimo, Navajo, East Indian, Caucasian, African American (Note: white and black in reference to race are lowercase)
- Religions and names of deities Note: Capitalize the Bible (but biblical). Do not capitalize heaven, hell, the devil, satanic.
- Special occasions the Olympic Games, the Cannes Film Festival
- Streets and roads
Lowercase Reference List
Here is a list of categories not capitalized unless an item contains a proper noun or proper adjective (or, sometimes, a trademark). In such cases, only the proper noun or adjective is capitalized.
- Animals antelope, black bear, Bengal tiger, yellow-bellied sapsucker, German shepherd
- Elements Always lowercase, even when the name is derived from a proper noun: einsteinium, nobelium, californium
- Foods Lowercase except for brand names, proper nouns and adjectives, or custom-named recipes: Tabasco sauce, Russian dressing, pepper crusted bluefin tuna, Mandy's Bluefin Surprise
- Heavenly bodies besides planets Never capitalize the moon or the sun.
- Medical conditions Epstein-Barr syndrome, tuberculosis, Parkinson's disease
- Plants, vegetables, and fruits poinsettia, Douglas fir, Jerusalem artichoke, organic celery, Golden Delicious apples
- Seasons and seasonal data spring, summertime, the winter solstice, the autumnal equinox, daylight saving time
A thorny aspect of capitalization: where does it stop? When does the Iraq war become the Iraq War? Why is the legendary Hope Diamond not the Hope diamond? Everyone writes New York City, so why does the Associated Press Stylebook recommend New York state? There aren't always easy formulas or logical explanations. Research with reference books and search engines is the best strategy.
In the case of brand names, companies are of little help, because they capitalize any word that applies to their merchandise.
Domino's Pizza or Domino's pizza? Is it Ivory Soap or Ivory soap, a Hilton Hotel or a Hilton hotel? Most writers don't capitalize common nouns that simply describe the products (pizza, soap, hotel), but it's not always easy to determine where a brand name ends.
There is Time magazine but also the New York Times Magazine. No one would argue with Coca-Cola or Pepsi Cola, but a case could be made for Royal Crown cola.
If a trademark starts with a lowercase word or letter (e.g., eBay, iPhone), many authorities advise capitalizing it to begin a sentence.
Example: EBay opened strong in trading today.
Rule 4. Capitalize titles when they are used before names, unless the title is followed by a comma. Do not capitalize the title if it is used after a name or instead of a name.
Examples: The president will address Congress. Chairman of the Board William Bly will preside at the conference. The chairman of the board, William Bly, will preside.
The senators from Iowa and Ohio are expected to attend. Also expected to attend are Senators Buzz James and Eddie Twain.
The governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general called for a special task force.
Governor Fortinbrass, Lieutenant Governor Poppins, and Attorney General Dalloway will attend.
Political Science Department Capitalization Handout
|Proper nouns are the names of specific people, places, and things and should be capitalized.Common nouns are all nonspecific people, places, and things and should not be capitalized.|
Proper Noun: Charles Schumer is a member of the Senate Common Noun: Most states have an upper house or senate
Proper Noun: Governor Pataki was elected for four terms Common Noun: Pataki, who served three terms as New York's governor, plans to run for the Senate. Proper Noun: The Constitution is the supreme law of the United States. Common Noun: A written constitution is supposed to be the defining essence of a country.
Proper Noun: The Constitution says nothing about healthcare. Common Noun: A constitution is a set of laws. Proper Noun: The State of New Jersey raised its sales tax. Common Noun: Many states have raised their sales taxes.
Proper Noun: Nancy Pelosi is the Speaker of the House of Representatives Common Noun: The featured speaker at the Save the Whales conference is Nancy Pelosi. Proper Noun: Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed House Bill 239. Common Noun: Several bills have gone through the lower chamber but have not made it into the upper chamber.
Proper Noun: The American Psychological Association supported health care reform. Common Noun: The police investigated him because of his association with known criminals. Proper Noun: The American Cancer Society helps many people. Common Noun: The doctor tried to find a cure for cancer.
Proper Noun: The New York State Legislature is notorious for its inefficiency. Common Noun: Most democracies have a legislature. Proper Noun: The Moynihan Commission studied welfare.
Common Noun: Senator Moynihan formed a commission.
|Capitalize references to major sections of a country of the world. Examples of correct usage follow.Do not capitalize the words north, south, east, and west when they refer to directions, in that their meaning becomes generalized rather than site-specific. Examples of correct usage follow.|
The Mountain West consists of Arizona, New Mexico, and Idaho. We traveled west. Trying to recapture the South is futile for Democrats.
The economy went south.
|Capitalize the names of historic events and documents, government units, political parties, business and fraternal organizations, clubs and societies, companies, and institutions.|
APA Style 6th Edition Blog: Do I Capitalize This Word?
by Chelsea Lee
Dear Style Experts,
I am writing a paper in APA Style, and I have a question about the capitalization of a specific word. Can you tell me how to capitalize it? Also, I need to know what the proper APA Style spelling of the word is. Thanks for your help!
— Wally in Washington, DC
Your first stop in answering questions about the capitalization or spelling of a specific word in an APA Style paper should be the dictionary.
APA uses Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (2005) as its standard reference for capitalization and spelling, along with the APA Dictionary of Psychology for psychology-related terms. Along with the guidance provided in the Publication Manual (see pp.
101–104 for capitalization rules), follow the capitalization and spelling you see in those dictionaries for words in your APA Style paper. If more than one option for capitalization and spelling is provided, use the first entry.
Now, you might wonder, why is it helpful to look up a word in a dictionary if you want to know how to capitalize it and not just how to spell it? Well, it’s helpful because the dictionary tells you whether a word is a proper noun (i.e.
, a specific person, place, or thing), and proper nouns are capitalized in English and therefore in APA Style (see Publication Manual sections 4.16 and 4.18).
Their opposite, regular or “common” nouns (which refer to general persons, places, or things), are lowercase in English and thus in APA Style as well.
What to Capitalize
Here are some examples of different types of (capitalized) proper nouns, along with some (lowercased) regular or common noun corollaries:
|Noun type||Proper noun example||Common noun example|
|Author or person||Freud, Skinner, von Neumann||the author, the investigator, the mathematician|
|Company, institution, or agency||American Psychological Association, University of Washington, Department of Sociology||the association, a university, a sociology department|
|Product||Advil, Xerox, Prozac (brand names)||ibuprofen, photocopy, fluoxetine (generic names)|
|Test or inventory||Beck Depression Inventory, Child Behavior Checklist||a depression inventory, a behavior checklist|
|Website or database|