At first glance, the rules of English capitalization seem simple. You probably know you should capitalize proper nouns and the first word of every sentence. But you also (sometimes) capitalize the first word of a quote. Usually you don’t capitalize after a colon, but there are exceptions. And what do you do when you’re not sure whether something is a proper noun?
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English Capitalization Rules:
1 Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence
This one’s easy. Always capitalize the first word of a sentence.
Where did I put that book?
Hey! It’s great to see you! How have you been?
- 2 Capitalize Names and Other Proper Nouns
- You should always capitalize people’s names.
My favorite author is Jane Austen.
Tom and Diane met at Judy’s house.
Have you met my dog, Boomer?
Names are proper nouns. The names of cities, countries, companies, religions, and political parties are also proper nouns, so you should capitalize them, too.
We experienced some beautiful Southern California weather last fall when we attended a Catholic wedding in San Diego.
Capitalizing Words: Proper vs Common
The rules governing the capitalization of words in sentences (as opposed to capitalizing words in titles or headings or capitalizing people’s titles or positions) seem simple at first glance: we capitalize proper nouns, and we lowercase common nouns. But because distinguishing between proper and common usage is often difficult, many writers tend to capitalize words and phrases that should, in fact, be lower-cased.
Can you distinguish between common and proper nouns and adjectives in the following sentences? Are the right words capitalized? (Answers and explanations are scattered throughout the discussion that follows.)
- Many residents of New York City are relieved that property values along the East River have been increasing over the past decade.
- Because a strong wind was blowing through the Cedar trees in the backyard, our Dachshund, named Cutie Pie, refused to go outside this morning.
- Business-oriented Web sites often feature an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.
- The town’s chamber of commerce purchased holiday lighting and appointed a planning committee to decide which streets were to be decorated.
- A local newspaper reported that a University in northern South Carolina has announced a hiring freeze, but we do not know for certain if the article was referring to Balzac University or the University of the Cultural Arts.
The Bottom Line
- A proper noun or adjective is a proper name—it designates a particular person, place, or thing. In sentence 1 above, we capitalize New York City and East River because they are proper nouns. Both are geographical place names.
- A common noun or adjective, in contrast, is a generic label—it designates a general type of person, place, or thing. In the following two sentences, we capitalize neither east nor river because these words are being used in their generic senses (in the first, they are used as nouns; in the second, as adjectives):
- “The barge was traveling toward the east, away from the mouth of the river.”
- “The east wind was wafting across the river basin.”
In sentence 2 of the opening exercise, neither cedar nor dachshund should be capitalized.
Even though nouns such as dachshund, soft-coated wheaten terrier, daffodil, marigold, jack-in-the-pulpit, tiger beetle, alfalfa blotch leaf miner, robin, scarlet tanager, magnolia, and cedar are the names of very specific kinds of dogs, flowers, insects, and so forth, they are common nouns.
There are occasions, of course, when proper nouns become part of a generic reference, as in these examples: “the Irish setter,” “the black-eyed Susan,” or “an Atlantic white cedar.”
Using Reference Works
In general, a writer’s best resource on the issue of capitalization is the dictionary. Both Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary, for example, used to claim that we capitalize the word Web when (as in sentence 3 of the opening exercise) it is used as shorthand for the proper name World Wide Web.
- Now, as both of these references predicted years ago, web and website have become common nouns and should thus be lower-cased.
- In some instances, however, reference works do not agree with regard to proper names and capitalization, particularly with adjectives.
- For example, one dictionary might prefer “Roman numerals,” “Arabic numerals,” and “French dressing” but advocate also for “french fry,” “brussels sprouts,” and “venetian blinds.”
Another dictionary or style guide may differ in these choices altogether, reminding us why it is important for businesses, agencies, and even individuals to choose a reputable reference work, consult it regularly, and use it consistently. (Professional organizations and businesses often have their own customized in-house style guides.)
Organizations, Groups, and Other Entities
To refer to “the town’s chamber of commerce,” as we do in sentence 4 of the opening exercise, is to use a generic label. On the other hand, to refer to “the Buckville Chamber of Commerce” is to call the organization by its individual name, its proper name.
Rules for Capitalizing Proper Nouns
Although capitalization rules can be a bit tricky, rules for capitalizing proper nouns are pretty straightforward. First, though, it's important to understand the difference between common nouns and proper nouns.
- Common nouns are the general names of people, places, and things. These types of nouns are usually not capitalized (unless they begin a sentence or are part of a title).
- Proper nouns are the names of a specific person, place, or thing. The basic capitalization rule of proper nouns is that the first letters are capitalized.
Here are some examples of common nouns and proper nouns:
Example: The woman in the restaurant lives in the city.
The common nouns woman, restaurant, and city in the sentence need to be written in lowercase.
Example: When Michelle Obama came to New York City she went to Starbucks.
The proper nouns Michelle Obama, New York City, and Starbucks in the sentence have to be capitalized.
To help you build an understanding of the different types of proper nouns that need to be capitalized, the following are some overall proper noun categories:
- Names of People & Pets: Maria Santos, Mr. Michael Jones, Lassie
- Geographical Locations: Chicago, Asia, Ireland, Mount Everest, Mississippi River
- Months, Days of the Week, Holidays: Monday, January, Christmas (Note: We do not capitalize the names of seasons: summer, winter, fall, etc.)
- Astronomical Names: Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (Note: sun and moon are generally not capitalized in sentences unless they are a part of a list of other astronomical names)
- Newspapers, Magazines, Journals, Books: Chicago-Sun Times, Vogue, Journal of Family Psychology
- Organizations, Companies: Microsoft, Oxford University, Amnesty International
- Religious Terms: Catholic, Islam, Hindu, God
- Buildings, Monuments, Place Names: Grand Canyon, Central Park, Hyatt Hotel
- People's Titles: President Obama, King Henry V, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Judge Thomas (note: when titles are part of the name they are capitalized; but, when titles are discussed generally, we do not capitalize them. Example: The president of China will be in Washington D.C. next week to visit with President Obama).
- Course Names: Economics 101, Child Psychology in America, Shakespeare's Comedies (Note: Do not capitalize general course names. Example: I am studying chemistry.)
- Historical Periods & Events: World War I, the Renaissance, D-Day
- Languages, Nationalities: French, English, German, American
- Brand Names: Nike, Coca-Cola, Levi's
When in doubt about the capitalization of proper nouns, look up the word in YourDictionary or conduct an online search.
Proper Noun Capitalization Test
Want to test your capitalization knowledge? Have a look at the sentences below. Can you spot the mistakes?
Mr. Li speaks three languages, chinese, english, and Japanese.
In june we spent a lot of time at the metropolitan museum and at central park.
Next year I'm going to study international business. I'm looking forward to taking the course, economic history of europe.
We had a very hot Summer. I cannot wait until September.
They took their daughter to see dr. Lucas last friday.
Answer Key: 1 (Chinese, English, Japanese); 2. (June, Metropolitan Museum, Central Park); 3. Economic History of Europe); 4. (summer); 5. (Dr., Friday)
The rules for capitalization are very specific. Most of what we capitalize are proper nouns; however, it is always good to stay on top of the other capitalization rules so that your grammar can help make your writing more readable.
What Is a Proper Noun?
To ensure proper grammar, you always have to abide by specific rules. While it is true that it is easy to use proper nouns, there are always certain things that you have to consider. Here are just some rules for capitalizing proper nouns.
1. Capitalize First Names
Always capitalize first names. Whether it be your best friend or your worst enemy, their names should always be capitalized. This holds true since all names are proper nouns.
Example: Please take Bonnie, my boss, to the lounge where she will rest for a while.
Note that the name was capitalized while her position – boss – is in small letters.
2. Do Not Capitalize All Letters in a Sentence
Remember, do not capitalize all letters in a formal sentence, especially when they are not proper nouns. By doing so, you could only make reading more difficult if you do so.
Example 1: Please Get the Louis Vuitton Bag Of Dorothy.
Example 2: Please get the Louis Vuitton bag of Dorothy.
The first example seemingly provides emphasis to the sentence, but it is grammatically incorrect. Only capitalize the words which are proper, such as Louis Vuitton and Dorothy.
There are some instances where you could capitalize on the important words in a sentence, but only for titles or subheads. If you take a look at the subheadings of this article, you would be able to see.
3. Capitalizing Names of Books, Films, or Song Titles
If you are describing proper names of book, film, or song titles, do not capitalize everything. Only capitalize the words which are relevant.
- Example 1: Me and You and Everyone We Know
- Example 2: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Example 3: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
We take these words as one when we consider them as titles. Hence, we categorize them as proper nouns. Important words are capitalized, especially if they have a bearing to the story. However, the conjunctions and articles should be in small letters.
4. Capitalizing Family Endearments
When dealing with families, there are rules that you should follow also. If you use the endearment directly, you use it as a proper noun. But if you are not using the endearment as a name, it should not be capitalized.
Example 1: Go fetch Dad his glass of water.
Example 2: Please call your dad to come tomorrow.
On the first example, the speaker could be related to the noun. Hence, it is capitalized. However, the second sentence is only used as an object so it should not be capitalized.
5. Capitalizing Directions
- Directions should not be used as a proper noun unless they are a part of a place.
- Example 1: Let’s go north and see if the missing dog is there.
- Example 2: Have you ever visited North Carolina?
This article is about capitalization in written languages, including languages other than English. For other uses, see Capitalization (disambiguation).
See also: Capitalization in English
The capital letter “A” in the Latin alphabet followed by its lowercase equivalent, in sans serif and serif typefaces, respectively
Capitalization (North American English) or capitalisation (British English) is writing a word with its first letter as a capital letter (uppercase letter) and the remaining letters in lower case, in writing systems with a case distinction. The term also may refer to the choice of the casing applied to text.
Conventional writing systems (orthographies) for different languages have different conventions for capitalization, for example the capitalization of titles. Conventions also vary, to a lesser extent, between different style guides.
The full rules of capitalization for English are complicated. The rules have also changed over time, generally to capitalize fewer words. The conventions used in an 18th-century document will be unfamiliar to a modern reader; for instance many common nouns are capitalized.
The systematic use of capitalized and uncapitalized words in running text is called “mixed case”.
Parts of speech
Owing to the essentially arbitrary nature of orthographic classification and the existence of variant authorities and local house styles, questionable capitalization of words is not uncommon, even in respected newspapers and magazines. Most publishers require consistency, at least within the same document, in applying a specified standard: this is described as “house style”.
- In English, the subjective form of the singular first-person pronoun, “I”, is capitalized, along with all its contractions such as I'll and I'm. Objective and possessive forms “me”, “my”, and “mine” are not.
- Many European languages traditionally capitalize nouns and pronouns used to refer to God, including references to Jesus Christ (reverential capitals): hallowed be Thy name, look what He has done. Some English authors capitalize any word referring to God: the Lamb, the Almighty; some capitalize “Thy Name”. These practices have become much less common in English in the 20th and 21st centuries.
- In the Bahai Scriptures, singular and plural object, subject, and possessive forms get capitalization if referring to a Rasul, the Twelve Imams, or 'Abdu'l-Baha.
- Some languages capitalize a royal we (pluralis majestatis), e.g. it is capitalized in German.
2nd person pronouns
Many languages distinguish between formal and informal 2nd person pronouns.
- In German, the formal 2nd person plural pronoun Sie is capitalized along with all its case-forms (Ihre, Ihres, etc.), but these words are not capitalized when used as 3rd person feminine singular or plural pronouns. Until the recent German spelling reform(s), the traditional rules (which are still widely adhered to, although not taught in schools) also capitalized the informal 2nd person singular pronoun Du (and its derivatives, such as Dein) when used in letters or similar texts, but this is no longer required.
- Italian also capitalizes its formal pronouns, Lei and Loro, and their cases (even within words, e.g. arrivederLa “goodbye”, formal). This is occasionally also done for the Dutch U, though this is formally only required when referring to a deity and may be considered archaic.
- In Spanish, the abbreviations of the pronouns usted and ustedes, Ud., Uds., Vd., and Vds., are usually written with a capital.
- In Finnish, the second-person plural pronoun can be used when formally addressing a single person, and in writing the pronoun is sometimes capitalized as Te to indicate special regard. In a more familiar tone, one can also capitalize the second-person singular pronoun Sinä.
- Similarly, in Russian the formal second-person pronoun Вы, and its oblique cases Вас, Вам etc., are capitalized (usually in personal correspondence); also in Bulgarian.
- Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian capitalize the formal second-person pronoun Vi along with its oblique cases (Vas, Vam, Vami) and personal pronoun (Vaš etc.) in formal correspondence. Historically, the familiar second-person pronoun ti and its cases (tebe, tebi, teboj) were capitalized as well, but new orthography prohibits such use.
- In Danish, the plural second-person pronoun, I, is capitalized, but its other forms jer and jeres are not. This distinguishes it from the preposition i (“in”). The formal second-person pronoun is also capitalized in all its forms (De, Dem, Deres), distinguishing it from the otherwise identical third-person plural pronouns.
- In Norwegian, both second person singular and plural have a capitalized alternative form (De, Dem, Deres in Bokmål; De, Dykk, Dykkar in Nynorsk) to express formality for both subject and object of a sentence, but is very rarely used in modern speech and writing.
- In formally written Polish, Czech, Slovak and Latvian, most notably in letters and e-mails, all pronouns referring to the addressee are capitalized. This includes Ty (“thou”) and all its related forms such as Twój and Ciebie. This principle extends to nouns used formally to address the addressee of a letter, such as Pan (“sir”) and Pani (“madam”).
- In Indonesian, capitalizing the formal second-person pronoun Anda along with all references to the addressee, such as “(kepada) Bapak/Ibu” ((to) Sir/Madam), is required in practice of Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (Perfected Orthography). However, some people do not know of or choose not to adhere to this spelling rule. In contrast, Malay orthography used in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei does not require the capitalization of anda.
- In Tagalog and its standard form, Filipino, the formal second-person pronouns Kayo and Ninyo and their oblique form Inyo are customarily and reverentially capitalized as such, particularly in most digital and printed media related to religion and its references. Purists who consider this rule as nonstandard and inconsistent do not apply it when writing.
- In Tajik, capitalization is used to distinguish the second person formal pronoun Шумо from the second person plural pronoun шумо.
- In Swedish, since du-reformen, the second person singular pronoun du may be capitalized as Du when addressed formally.
- The various languages and dialects in the High German family, including Standard German and Luxembourgish, are the only major languages using the Latin alphabet in which all nouns are generally capitalized. This was also practiced in other Germanic languages (mainly due to German influence):
- In German, all nouns are capitalized.
- Danish, before the spelling reform of 1948
- Swedish, during the 17th and 18th centuries
- English, during the 17th and 18th centuries (as in Gulliver's Travels, and most of the original 1787 United States Constitution)
- Some regional languages, such as Saterland Frisian
- Proper nouns are capitalized. That includes the following categories of names:
- Each part of a person's name:
Here’s When To Capitalize Words
There are a few specific cases where words should be capitalized. They’re easy to remember. In English, capital letters are most commonly used at the start of a sentence, for the pronoun I, and for proper nouns.
The First Word of a Sentence
You should always capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence, no matter what the word is. Take, for example, the following sentences: “The weather was beautiful. It was sunny all day.” Even though the and it aren’t proper nouns, they’re capitalized here because they’re the first words in their sentences.
The Pronoun I
Pronouns are words that replace nouns. I, you, and me are all examples of pronouns. While you and me are usually lowercase, the pronoun I should always be capitalized, regardless of where it appears in a sentence.
For example, in A Beautiful Mind, Sylvia Nasar writes, “What I got back was an envelope on which my address was written in different-colored crayons.” Here, the pronoun I is correctly capitalized even though it isn’t at the beginning of the sentence.
A proper noun is the special noun or name used for a specific person, place, company, or other thing. Proper nouns should always be capitalized.
People’s names are proper nouns, and therefore should be capitalized. The first letter of someone’s first, middle, and last name is always capitalized, as in John William Smith.
Other proper nouns include countries, cities, and sometimes regions, such as Bulgaria, Paris, and the American South. Geographic features that have names should also be capitalized, as in Mt. Kilimanjaro and the Pacific Ocean.
Landmarks and monuments also start their proper names with capital letters, such as the Empire State Building and the Golden Gate Bridge. Street names are always capitalized, too (e.g. Main Street).
The names of companies and organizations should also be capitalized, such as Nike and Stanford University. There are some exceptions: Sometimes a company may choose not to use a capital letter at the beginning of its name or product as a stylistic choice. Examples include eBay and the iPhone.
Capitalizing Proper Nouns
Capitalizing Proper Nouns
A proper noun is a noun which names a specific person, place, or thing.
Garfield Chester Alan Arthur
- Given or pet names of animals:
Lassie Trigger Secretariat
- Geographical and celestial names:
Red Sea Alpha Centauri Lake Havasu City
- Monuments, buildings, meeting rooms:
the Taj Mahal Grant's Tomb Room 222
- Historical events, documents, laws, and periods:
the Civil War the Hatch Act the Reformation
- Months, days of the week, holidays:
Monday Easter December
- Groups and languages:
Myopia Hunt Club the Republicans Israeli French National Football League
- Religions, deities, scriptures:
God Christ the Bible the Torah Islam
- Awards, vehicles, vehicle models, brand names:
the Nobel Peace Prize Eagle Scout Ford Escort the Bismarck Kleenex
Some parts of last names may not be capitalized.
Sometimes the part of the last name following Mac (but never Mc or M') may not be capitalized. For example, Prime Minister J. R. MacDonald, but author George Macdonald. There is no rule, just learn the name.
Sometimes the part of the last name following the particles de, du, d', den, der, des, la, le, l', ten, ter, van, or von (and similar particles) may or may not be capitalized. The particles themselves may or may not be capitalized. Check to see how the person prefers it.
The spelling rule in Europe, where such particles are more common, is not to capitalize the particle when the first name is being used with it, but to capitalize the part that follows the particle. The particle is capitalized if the last name with the particle is used by itself.
Correct: Ludwig van Beethoven
Correct: Cornelia ten Boom (First name being used)
Correct: Miss Ten Boom (First name not used)
- See Names Not Capitalized for certain names which are not capitalized.
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Text messages, casual e-mails, and instant messages often ignore the rules of capitalizationUsing a capital letter as the first letter of a word.. In fact, it can seem unnecessary to capitalize in these contexts.
In other, more formal forms of communication, however, knowing the basic rules of capitalization and using capitalization correctly gives the reader the impression that you choose your words carefully and care about the ideas you are conveying.
Proper nouns—the names of specific people, places, objects, streets, buildings, events, or titles of individuals—are always capitalized.
Always capitalize nationalities, races, languages, and religions. For example, American, African American, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on.
Do not capitalize nouns for people, places, things, streets, buildings, events, and titles when the noun is used in general or common way. See the following chart for the difference between proper nouns and common nouns.
On your own sheet of paper, write five proper nouns for each common noun that is listed. The first one has been done for you.
- Common noun: river
- Common noun: musician
- Common noun: magazine
- Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.
Computer-related words such as “Internet” and “World Wide Web” are usually capitalized; however, “e-mail” and “online” are never capitalized.
Edit the following sentences by correcting the capitalization of the titles or names.
- The prince of england enjoys playing polo.
- “Ode to a nightingale” is a sad poem.
- My sister loves to read magazines such as the new yorker.
- The house on Mango street is an excellent novel written by Sandra Cisneros.
- My physician, dr. alvarez, always makes me feel comfortable in her office.
Edit the following paragraphs by correcting the capitalization.