Sometimes I’m writing for an academic client—an actual university, not college student trying to con a writer into writing their essay. Or I’m writing about the coolest holiday of all—Halloween, when trees are at their most autumnal. Seasons. They come and they go. But when, oh when, do you make them proper with capitalization? Let’s take a walk down the seasonal lane, shall we?
Yes to Capitalize Seasons
To start, in general, you’re not going to capitalize the seasons. That’s the big, grammatical reveal today. However, there are times when to capitalize seasons. According to Grammarly, capitalize the seasons when the word, i.e., spring, summer, fall, etc., is part of a proper noun. Such as with a proper name or title. Here are some proper uses of when to capitalize seasons:
Also, keep to the norm by capitalizing the season when it is the first word in a sentence or question, such as “Winter is your favorite season?” Finally, if you are calling someone a name according to a season, such as Summer, Winter, Autumn, or Spring, well, that’s going to be capitalized, too. Those are givens to us grammar hounds, but it’s good to know the seasonal capitalization rules—so you know when they are broken.
Generally Not Capitalized
Yes, that’s the case—you generally do not capitalize the seasons. When talking about going on a summer road trip, fall leaf-peeping adventure, or spring break, it’s all common enough to keep to the lowercase leadership. For example:
- In Your Autumn Guide to Australia, From The New York Times (and Friends), The Australia Letter, a weekly report from the Australian bureau, states, “Below you’ll find a collection of informed tips for what to do, eat, see, drink and more over autumn in Australia, from Times journalists and local friends of The Times.”
Two primo examples of autumn in two different formats. Capitalized when part of the title, not capitalized when used in reference to a season.
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Do I Capitalize Seasons?
Do you ever wonder if you should capitalize a season in your writing?
- The season of fall is my favorite season of all.
- The season of Fall is my favorite season of all.
Which one is correct? Well, despite my poor attempt at poetry, the rules of whether to capitalize seasons are actually quite simple.
- March 21 is the first day of spring.
- On Groundhog Day we find out if we will have six more weeks on winter.
- The smell of springtime is quite pleasant.
There are, however, a few exceptions to this rule—of course. But don’t worry; they are also very easy to remember.
The first exception to the lowercase rule is if the season appears in a formal name. For example,
- Yesterday, I went ice-skating at the Ann Arbor Winter Sports Complex.
In this example, the season “Winter” appears in the formal name of the sporting complex and should therefore remain capitalized.
The second exception to the rule is if the season appears in lieu of a month for a journal or publication. For instance, some journals, or even magazines, do not come out every month but they come out seasonally. In this case, they would have a Fall issue or a Summer issue. The seasons would be capitalized. For example,
- The recipes in the Fall issue of Great Food Cooking are always spectacular.
Aside from these two rules, seasons should always be lowercased.
Editorial Style Guide
In general, the Amherst College Office of Communications follows the Associated Press Stylebook for its publications. The style guide below covers points that are of particular concern at Amherst, as well as exceptions we make to AP style.
abbreviations / acronyms / initialisms Many offices, departments, centers, student organizations, etc. come to be known by shortened names (e.g., the Center for Humanistic Inquiry becomes “the CHI”; the Department of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought becomes “LJST”; Valentine Dining Hall becomes “Val”).
These abbreviations can be useful, but be aware that readers might not automatically understand what they mean, especially if the readers or the organizations are new to the Amherst community.
Always use the full name on first reference, and introduce an abbreviation only if that abbreviation is going to appear later in the document.
academic titles Whenever practical, use a faculty member’s full official title on first reference. Endowed professorships are always capitalized; other titles are capitalized only when they appear immediately before a person’s name (e.g., “Rhonda Cobham-Sander, the Emily C.
Jordan Folger Professor of Black Studies and English”; “Associate Professor of Biology Josef Trapani”; “Josef Trapani, associate professor of biology”). Do not abbreviate “Professor” as “Prof.” And, though most Amherst professors have doctorates, we generally use the title “Dr.” only for medical doctors.
alumna / alumnae / alumnus / alumni / alum “Alumna” is the feminine singular term for someone who has attended a school; “alumnae” is its plural, meaning multiple women who have attended a school.
“Alumnus” is the masculine singular term. “Alumni” is plural, used for multiple men or for a mixed-gender group (so it does not make sense to refer to an individual as “an alumni”). The shortened, gender-neutral forms “alum” and “alums” can be used in less formal contexts.
There is no such thing as a “former alumnus”; use simply “alumnus” or “former student.”
Amherst (magazine) The title of the College’s quarterly magazine is simply Amherst (italicized, as all magazine titles are). The title does not include words such as Magazine, Quarterly, Alumni, Bulletin or Notes.
Art and the History of Art What used to be called the Department of Fine Arts, and then the Department of Art and Art History, is now known as the Department of Art and the History of Art.
artist-in-residence / playwright-in-residence / writer-in-residence
and / &
In general, spell out the word “and” rather than using “&” (e.g., “Department of Theater and Dance”; “Archives and Special Collections”; “peanut butter and jelly”). Exceptions are when the official title of an organization, product, business, book, film, etc. includes “&” (e.g., Procter & Gamble; Roger & Me), or when the ampersand is useful for clarity (e.g., “She is a double major in law, jurisprudence & social thought and theater & dance”).
- Biddy Martin Though the Amherst College president’s first name is Carolyn, she is almost always identified, even on first reference, by her nickname, Biddy.
- Career Center See Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning.
- College Police The offical name of the College’s police department is Amherst College Police.
commas In most instances, we omit the serial comma (also known as the “Oxford comma”) when making a list within a paragraph (e.g.: “The workshop is open to students, faculty and staff” instead of “The workshop is open to students, faculty, and staff”). class years Leave the word “class” lowercase (e.g.
, “the class of 1957”; “members of the class of 2003”; “the class of ’91”; “the most recent graduating class”). Also, note the direction in which the apostrophe curves: “the class of ’19,” not “the class of ‘19.”College / the College Capitalize the C only within the full name of a specific college (e.g.
, Hampshire College) or in reference to Amherst College as “the College.” Use a lowercase c when referring to colleges in general (e.g., “She will soon complete her college applications”; “He is the first member of his family to attend college”).Commencement This is the official name for the ceremony at which students graduate from Amherst.
Commencement Weekend is the long weekend of events on campus leading up to and including each year’s Commencement ceremony.
Connecticut River Valley / Pioneer Valley / The Valley “Pioneer Valley” is a colloquial and promotional name for the part of the Connecticut River Valley that runs through Massachusetts—the valley in which Amherst and its surrounding towns are located. Use “Pioneer Valley” only if it is part of the official name of a business or organization. Otherwise, use “Western Massachusetts,” “Connecticut River Valley” or simply “The Valley.”
course titles Place quotation marks around course titles (e.g., “Philosophy of Science”; “Chaucer: The Canterbury Tales”).
dates Here are examples of the various formats we use for dates:
- Tuesday, Aug. 18 Note the comma.
- Aug. 18, 2020 Note the comma.
- The deadline of Aug. 18, 2020, is strictly enforced. Commas set off the year from the rest of the sentence.
- August 2020 Do not abbreviate the month or use a comma when mentioning only the month and the year.
- Aug. 18 In many contexts, the year is understood and does not need to be included.
- March 18 Do not abbreviate the names of months that have five or fewer letters.
- summer 2020 Do not capitalize the names of seasons.
- the Fall 2020 semester Do capitalize “Fall” and “Spring” when referring to academic semesters.
dean of the faculty Make sure to include “the” in the middle of the phrase.
department names Capitalize “the Department of _______,” but use lowercase for “the _______ department” (e.g., “This event is sponsored by the Department of History”; “They took many courses in the history department”).
departments / majors / programs This page can help to clarify whether a particular major at Amherst has its own department, exists alongside other majors within the same department, or is a program that might involve courses in multiple departments.
Classics, for instance, is a department that offers several different majors, and Amherst has a “neuroscience program” rather than a “neuroscience department.” emerita / emeritus This term denotes that a retired individual has retained a rank or title.
“Emerita” is the feminine form, and “emeritus” is masculine. Place it within the person’s title (e.g., Leah Hewitt, professor emerita of French) except when it is an endowed professorship, in which case it goes after the title and a comma (e.g., William H.
Pritchard ’53, the Henry Clay Folger Professor of English, Emeritus).
first-generation student Amherst uses this term for any (self-identifying) student who does not have a parent or guardian who has obtained a four-year college degree within the United States. Do not abbreviate it to “first-gen” unless the context is informal and you are sure that your audience is familiar with the term.
first-year student(s) We generally use the term “first-year student(s)” or “first-year(s),” rather than “freshman” or “freshmen.”
Five College Consortium / Five Colleges, Inc. Spell out the word “Five.” “Five College” is not hyphenated.
Global Education Office Amherst’s study abroad office is now called the Global Education Office or the Office of Global Education.
hyperlinks When inserting a link into online text, there is no need to use a separate phrase such as “Click here” or “Follow this link.” Instead, insert it directly into the phrase that best describes the linked page (e.g., “The Mead Art Museum will be open this week.”)
Latinx and Latin American Studies This is the name of an interdisciplinary program major established at Amherst in 2017. “Latinx” is a gender-neutral or gender-inclusive term used instead of “Latino” or “Latina.”
Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning What used to be called the Career Center is now known as the Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning.
Mammoth(s) Amherst College’s mascot is the Mammoth (e.g., “Will a student dress up as the Mammoth?”). The plural should be used in reference to our athletic teams (“the Mammoths are playing against the Ephs”), the idea being that every Amherst athlete is a Mammoth.
In a phrase (or a logo depicting a phrase) such as “Mammoths hockey,” do not use an apostrophe after “Mammoths.
” The first letter is capitalized when referring to the mascot or athletic teams but lowercase when referring to the actual animal (“The Beneski Museum displays the skeleton of a mammoth”).
Mount Holyoke College Do not abbreviate “Mount” as “Mt.” (except in the college’s web address, mtholyoke.edu, and its email addresses).
names of people In general, after first reference, identify a person by last name only (e.g., Jane Doe ’21 becomes “Doe”; Associate Professor of Economics Jun Ishii becomes “Ishii”).
In some cases—such as when multiple people in an article have the same last name or the tone of an article is casual or personal—it might be best to use first names.
In any case, be consistent within an article or publication; do not, for example, refer to faculty members by last names and students by first names.
parents The format for identifying someone as a parent of an Amherst student or graduate is illustrated by the following (fictional) example: Lee Smith ’90, P’17 ’20, is a member of the class of 1990 who has children in the classes of 2017 and 2020.
phone numbers When giving a phone number in a piece of writing, always include the area code in parentheses . Use en dashes rather than hyphens between parts of the phone number. E.g.: (413) 542–2927.
Powerhouse The name of the student activity space on the east side of campus, the Powerhouse, is spelled as one word, with a lowercase h.
pronouns The Queer Resource Center offers this guide to personal pronouns as they relate to gender. Make an effort to ask about and use every person’s correct pronouns when speaking and writing.
“They,” “them” and “their(s)” are acceptable not only as plural pronouns (as in “The students all said they would return to their dorms”), but also as singular pronouns for a person whose gender is unknown (“Someone left their phone behind when they exited the building”) or for a person who specifically uses those pronouns (“Taylor remembers the day they received their acceptance letter from Amherst”).
- Science Center Capitalize this phrase in reference to the science facility built on the east side of campus and opened in fall 2018.
- Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies What used to be called the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies (abbreviated “WAGS”) is now known as the Department of Sexuality, Women’s and Gender Studies (“SWAGS”).
- times of day Here are examples of the formats we use:
- 3:30 a.m.; 3:30 p.m. Note that “a.m.” and “p.m.” are lowercase, with periods.
- 3 a.m.; 3 p.m. When a time is exactly on the hour, don’t include the colon and double-zero.
- 1:15 to 3:15 a.m.; 1:15 to 3:15 p.m. When both times in a range are a.m. or both times are p.m., write “a.m.” or “p.m.” only after the second time.
- 9:15 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.; 9:15 p.m. to 3:15 a.m. When one time in a range is a.m. and the other is p.m., make this clear.
- 3:30 in the morning; 3:30 in the afternoon Including “a.m.” or “p.m.” would be redundant here.
- noon; midnight To avoid confusion, do not refer to these as “12 p.m.” and “12 a.m.” Also, “12 noon” and “12 midnight” would be redundant.
study abroad See Global Education Office.
Town of Amherst Use this phrase to distinguish the town from the College, and capitalize “Town.” Ordinarily, a reference to a small town would include the state (e.g., “the Sugar Loaf, N.Y., resident”), but in College publications, it is understood that Amherst College and the Town of Amherst are in Massachusetts, so the state need not be listed.
University of Massachusetts Amherst / UMass Though many universities use dashes or commas between the names of the universities and their cities, notice that in this case, there is no punctuation between “Massachusetts” and “Amherst.” The abbreviation “UMass” can be used after first reference, if the tone of the article is not especially formal. Do not put the abbreviation entirely in capital letters (“UMASS”).
upperclass students This term refers to students in the sophomore, junior and senior classes.
However, it can be erroneously interpreted as referring to students from higher socioeconomic classes. For that reason, avoid using it except when necessary.
In many cases, “sophomores, juniors and seniors” is an effective substitute. Do not use “upperclassman” or “upperclassmen.”
Two Confusing Capitalization Rules
In today's lesson, we'll cover two confusing capitalization rules. Here we go!
Rule 1 – Seasons
Capitalize days of the week and months of the year, but don't capitalize seasons unless the name of the season is being used as part of a proper noun.
Last winter, we watched fireworks on a Thursday in January.
I can't wait for spring break this year! It starts Monday, March 9 and goes to Friday, March 13.
We do not capitalize winter or spring in these sentences since they are both being used to name seasons.
The 2020 Summer Olympics will be hosted in Japan.
When I was a classroom teacher, I read Brian's Winter with my students.
Here, Summer and Winter are words within proper nouns, so we capitalize them. Summer Olympics names a specific event, and Brian's Winter is the title of a book.
Rule 2 – North, South, East, & West
Capitalize north, south, east and west when referring to specific regions, but don't capitalize them when referring to directions.
I love hiking in the West.
I can't wait to visit Southern California!
The West and Southern California are specific regions, so we capitalize them.
To get to my house, go west on Highway 35.
I live south of town.
Here, west and south are being used to describe direction, so we keep them lowercase.
BONUS Rule 3 – Family Names
- Rule 3 – Family Names
- Capitalize family names when you use them as a specific person's name.
- Don't capitalize titles used after possessive adjectives or the words a, an, or the.
Aunt Edna asked my dad if he wanted to sit near Mom.
Aunt Edna and Mom are being used as a specific person's name, and neither of has have a possessive adjective/pronoun or article before them, so they should be capitalized.
Dad has the word my before it, so it should start with a lowercase letter.
BONUS Rule 4 – Courses
Capitalize titles of specific courses.
Don't capitalize titles of general courses unless they are derived from proper nouns.
My brother teaches chemistry and English.
Chemistry and English are both being used as the titles of general courses. Chemistry is not derived from a proper noun, so it should be lowercase. English is a proper noun, so it should be capitalized.
Tip: The names of languages are proper nouns, so they should always be capitalized.
This fall he'll be teaching Chemistry 101 and English 203.
Here, Chemistry and English are in the titles of specific courses, so they should be capitalized.
Directions: Correct the mistakes (if any) in the following five sentences. You'll find the answers below.
- In the Winter, my Mom plans to vacation in southern California.
- My sister is a French teacher at a school South of the airport.
- I signed up for English 303 next semester.
- My Brother and Sister will help Aunt Cindy with her garden this Spring.
- Mom and Dad always ask me to shovel the driveway during the winter.
Are seasons capitalized?
No, seasons are not generally capitalized.
We always capitalize days of the week and months of the year in writing. However, when it comes to seasons of the year, we don’t capitalize the name of the season. If we did, we would have to capitalize every particular time period, even those occurring throughout the day, like morning and afternoon. This would look absurd and get quite confusing.
Seasons, such as fall, spring, winter, and summer are general nouns, not proper nouns so therefore seasons shouldn’t be capitalized. Days of the week and months of the year are proper nouns instead so they are always capitalized. Therefore, the capitalization that applies to proper nouns isn’t applicable to seasons.
There are situations, however, when you should capitalize seasons. For example, at the beginning of a sentence where the rule of the capitalizing the first letter applies (E.g.
: Summer is the best season of the year, but fall is not). Other examples of when you can capitalize fall are when the season forms part of a proper noun, or when it’s a part of a title.
For example, in ‘Fall Games’ or ‘Fall Semester.’
Another example is when seasons are personified in a piece of creative writing, such as in poems. But this only applies when seasons are given life in such writing.
Overall, the general rule is that we don’t capitalize seasons, fall included.
To learn more about proper title capitalization rules, give our free title capitalization tool a try.
Do the Names of the Seasons Get Capitalized?
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What to Know
The seasons are not proper nouns and are therefore not normally capitalized. Of course, as with other nouns, they should be capitalized at the beginning of sentences and in titles. One poetic exception, is that seasons are sometimes personified, or treated as beings, and in those cases they are often capitalized.
The seasons come, the seasons go, and the question remains: do you capitalize them?
In most cases, no. The names of the seasons—spring, summer, fall or autumn, and winter—are not proper nouns, so they only get capitalized when other common nouns get capitalized.
For example, a student would write “I'm taking a linguistics class in the spring” or “I took the class in fall 2019,” but a list of available classes might be under a title heading of “Spring 2020 Linguistics Classes.
” Season names are of course capitalized at the beginning of sentences too, as in “Spring arrives in March.”
Given that the names of the days of the week and months of the year are capitalized, this advice can feel counterintuitive. Let's dig in deeper, then, with some examples. Here we have season common nouns being simply the uncapitalized common nouns English meant them to be:
Harry the Dog and Mabel the Cat were chatting when Harry introduced a concerning topic. “A bear,” he said, “violently dismantled my bird feeder this past spring.”
Mabel's reply was somewhat harsh. “Fool! Don't you know better than to leave your bird feeder up past late winter?”
In titles, common nouns—including the nouns that refer to the seasons—get capitalized:
Harry chose to ignore Mabel's tone. “Interestingly enough, the bear left a book behind: John Steinbeck's The Winter of our Discontent, which, as I'm sure you know, takes its title from Shakespeare's King Richard III, in which Gloucester says, 'Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York…'
“Oh, that is interesting,” Mabel concurred, feeling less truculent. “Bears can be funny. I once heard one yell 'The best song in Grease is “Summer Nights,” don't @ me.'”
Exception: Personifying the Seasons
Capitalization of Seasons
The capitalization of seasons has specific rules in the English language. When the seasons are used generally, they generally should not be capitalized; however, when seasons are used in a title, then at least the first letter should be capitalized. Of course, there are exceptions to these rules as well.
Seasons, such as winter, spring, summer and fall, do not require capitalization because they are generic common nouns.
Some people may confuse these words as being proper nouns and try to capitalize them using that rule of capitalization. This can make some intuitive sense, as you capitalize the days of the week (e.g., Wednesday) and the months of the year (e.g., August). However, the four seasons are not proper nouns and, consequently, do not need to be capitalized.
Here are a few examples of the seasons used correctly in their lowercase form.
- The winter season allows for many snow related sports.
- My favorite flowers bloom in the spring.
- This summer's heat wave lasted over a month.
- We often take long drives to look at autumn foliage.
Variations Are Still Lower-Case
The general distinction between common nouns and proper nouns is that the former are generic and the latter are specific. However, even when referring to a specific season, the term remains lowercase.
- The winter solstice usually happens in December each year.
- Joe spent all of autumn 1999 in Provincetown.
- The family has visited Disneyland the past two summers.
- A lot has happened since last spring.