The Rules of Capitalization

Uppercase or Lowercase? Learn the Case!

The definition of capitalization is fairly simple. It’s the practice of making certain letters uppercase, or capitalized, when needed. Knowing when to use proper capitalization isn’t as simple, especially for non-native English writers.

When it comes to capitalization, it’s important to use the correct case because it lends to your credibility as a writer. If an article contains excessive capitalized words in unnecessary situations, it will send a message of inexperience to the reader. If a brand or proper name isn’t capitalized, it could send a message of disregard for the lack of attention to detail. Bottom line, it’s essential to use the correct case!

If you’re unsure of when to use capitalization in your writing, review the rules and examples below to give you a better idea.

Staple Rules

#1: Beginning of a Sentence
Always capitalize the first letter of a word in the beginning of a sentence.

#2: The Pronoun “I”
Always capitalize the pronoun “I” and its variations: I’ll, I’m, I’ve, I’d.

Rules of Proper Nouns

A proper noun is different from a common noun in that it refers to a specific, distinctive person, place or thing, rather than a generic person, place or thing. These include:

#3: Names of People
Capitalize public figures, specific people, and specific nicknames.

  • Uppercase: Mother Theresa, Stephen King, my sister Amanda, my friend Scooter
  • Lowercase: charity worker, writer, sister or friend (when used generically)

#4: Names of Places
Capitalize landmarks, buildings, geographical regions, cities, states, countries, and continents.

  • Uppercase: Central Park, Willis Tower, North West, Los Angeles, Florida, Canada, Europe
  • Lowercase: the park, the building, left, city, state, country, continent

#5: Names of Organizations
Capitalize political, government, national, racial, social, civil, religious, and athletic groups.

  • Uppercase: American Red Cross, Peace Corps, New York Yankees, Chinese, Democrats
  • Lowercase: community, charity, the baseball team, politicians

#6: Brands
Capitalize specific product names, names of companies, names of websites, and trademarked words.

  • Uppercase: Kleenex, Apple, iPad, Yahoo!, McDonald’s
  • Lowercase: tissues, cola, tablet, cheeseburger

#7: Dates
Capitalize days of the week, months of the year, and holidays.

  • Uppercase: Monday, December, Halloween
  • Lowercase: today, next month, the party

#8: Family Members
Capitalize the names of family members when you’re using the family title in place of their real name; and capitalize their family title when it’s part of their name.

  • Uppercase: I love Mother. / My Aunt Mary is funny.
  • Lowercase: I love my mother. / My aunt is funny.

#9: Professional Titles
Capitalize professional titles when they precede a name, but not following the name.

  • Uppercase: You should call Mayor Jones.
  • Lowercase: I called John Jones, mayor of Rockville.

#10: Acronyms
An acronym is an abbreviation of a longer phrase represented by a series of letters. Acronyms should be capitalized.

  • Uppercase: SEO, MLM, JPEG, MLB, ATM
  • Lowercase: Very few exceptions because acronyms often abbreviate proper nouns.

Ultimately, the rules of capitalization include many more scenarios depending on the unique situation. In this list, we included the most crucial rules in order to ensure everybody has a grasp on the case of capitalization.

Always do your best to use correct capitalization and to avoid using capitalization when it isn’t needed.

We realize it can be tricky; if you’re not sure, do your research and don’t hesitate to ask!

Do you have any questions about capitalization in specific instances? Comment below!

31 Comments »


1
Anthony Webster writes:

You left one out. What about capitalisation as it is used in the subject of an article or blog. e.g 5 Ways Reading Can Encourage Better Writing Techniques.

Comment provided October 24, 2014 at 12:25 PM

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Anthony,

Thanks for your feedback. We didn’t cover the capitalization of titles for articles, books, and other pieces of writing because we had already shared so much! We didn’t want to overwhelm our readers with more rules. If you’d like more information on the correct capitalization for your articles, you can refer to this blog post: http://blog.EzineArticles.com/2012/06/what-to-capitalize-in-a-title.html

Let us know if you have further questions!

-Courtney

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2
David Croucher writes:

Three (I hope) helpful clarifications from the UK:

(1) Capitalizing place names used as titles can include the definite article. So “We went to the park” is not capitalized, but the title is: “We went to that large hospital, The Park”. And Central Park in New York is not in lower case like the central park in our own township, but its actual name (Phillip’s Park) is.

(2) Capitalizing in longer titles can include some lower case first letters: notice that in RoSPA’s full title below, the trivial words ‘for’, ‘the’ and ‘of’ aren’t capitalized.

(3) Acronyms will sometimes contain lower case if extra letters are used from a word or if the word is trivial, usually a conjunction or article added to form a pronounceable word. In the UK, the MoD is the Ministry of Defence and RoSPA is the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. Too much lower case used like this is confusing, though – remember that if you’re making up your own acronymns.

I think that these are general rules.

Comment provided October 24, 2014 at 12:53 PM

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David Croucher writes:

Addendum: as usual, the Wikipedia entry on Acronyms is very clear and with a lot of examples: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acronym

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3
Bob Francis writes:

Dear Courtney,

Thank You for outlining these important rules. I have a deep love for the use of proper grammar and spelling. I thought I might add my own two-bits :)

Books:
– TOC, Table of Contents
– Chapter Headings, Acknowledgements, and all other parts of book production

Questions:

– Are the following rule-breakers?

I always use capitalization in my email sign-offs to stress them, such as: Sincerely Yours; or, With Deepest Sympathies; etc.

My use of the words: “Thank You” are in almost every email I send. It is my judgment that says the capitalization of You makes it more respectful and personal. What do you think?

Thank You,
Most Sincerely,
Bob.

Comment provided October 24, 2014 at 1:47 PM

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David Croucher writes:

It’s a personal thing and I think that you can do this, Bob, but better not to in EzineArticles.

That’s because this kind of capitalization is rather old-fashioned and will make you look that way. In both British and US culture, capitalizing of this kind for emphasis was commonplace in the 17th and 18th centuries (though styles varied a lot); became more regularized in the 19th century with the rise of universal schooling; then gradually died away until by the mid-20th century very few people did it. Most people today regard it as ‘quaint’ and ‘old-fashioned’, so if you want to appear this way publicly, by all means do it. Generally, though, it has the same effect on readers as poor spelling and grammar: it halts the smooth flow of their reading somewhat, will irritate a lot of readers and in any case will make it harder for them to concentrate on your message (which is why you’re writing an article, isn’t it?)

Think of all such deviations from today’s accepted best practice as being rather like performing legal but unexpected manoeuvres in your car: people can cope, but there’s much more chance of a ‘crash and burn’ result, even if the chance is still small. Instead, behave the way that people expect, in your own best interests!

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Bob Francis writes:

Thanks very much David.

I do appreciate what you are saying in your response. I am possibly a throwback from days of old! I’m not even sure how I picked that up, but it may have been from reading the New Testament a few times.

Thanks again Sir!

Bob.

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David Croucher writes:

If it was the King James bible, probably, but that is only one example of very formal Tudor-age English usage. Shakspere (or, at least, his typesetters) was at the other end of that spectrum of usage.

It would probably be better to look at the later 18th century and the following 100 years, when spelling and grammar were more standardized and most words had arrived at the broad meanings that they have now. Try reading or skimming Wordsworth, Henry Fielding, William Cowper, Frances Burney, Ann Radcliffe (and the Gothick and Romantic novelists), Walter Scott and Matthew Lewis; and contemporary rather than more recent translations of Goethe, Voltaire and Rousseau.

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David Croucher writes:

OH, and one more point, Bob. ‘Proper’ grammar and spelling are a fluid field – as you’d gather from that reading list! What we were taught at school was the basic rules for beginners; good authors use a deal more flexibility and good readers appreciate that. Things like ‘splitting infinitives’ can bring a text alive, used properly, or bomb it if used badly – hence grade school teachers deprecating the practice while the best authors do it constantly (though sparingly).

Essentially, it’s a case of ‘learn the rules, then learn how and when to break them. That’s especially true in English (and less so in, for example, French) because those schoolmasters’ grammar rules are derived from Latin rules, not English ones, when the Grammar School masters who wrote the textbooks were teaching more Latin Grammar than English. They were also, to a man, pedants – God save us all from those!

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Useful rules to polish the writing in English. I use capital and bold letters whenever I want to stress my point . However, not followed when writing articles for your site.

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4
Fred Kaufer writes:

This article has been very useful to me, and I would like to make a suggestion as to publish an article about the use of the “Apostrophe”.

Regards

Fred Kaufer

Comment provided October 24, 2014 at 2:09 PM

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5
Mike Spanjar writes:

Excellent topic. When clients supply me with their version of the copy for a project, oftentimes they capitalize objects, like a Variable Speed Drill. I am constantly reminding them that these things are not proper nouns and need no capitalization.

One of my bank clients is so accustomed to the legal forms and letters she works with on a weekly basis that she regularly capitalizes terms like Bank and Savings Account.

And lastly, your item #9 above is one of my pet peeves. Many of my writing assignments include employee bios, and I often receive material with the ever popular, “Steve worked as our Vice President of Sales until he rose to the position of President.” When I lowercase the two titles, the copy comes back with all my edits EXCEPT for Steve’s titles, which have been returned to initial caps. I will educate the client on the rule and sometimes they get it, other times they say, “Well, we prefer it this way.”

Comment provided October 24, 2014 at 2:35 PM

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David Croucher writes:

Good point, Mike. Well, after you’ve done the corrections and given your professional advice, ‘the customer is always right!’ There are many variant uses of capitals and as long as they don’t jar too much with readers, the in-house rules or the preferences of the powerful trump everything else. This is why the Chicago Tribune had such idiosyncratic usage of English for so many years.

In any case, today’s variants can become tomorrow’s accepted practice. Usually not, but occasionally – or we wouldn’t be using PowerPoint, eBay (or even possible EzineArticles?) et al so happily today!

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David Croucher writes:

Ohhh! I wrote just above e Z ine @ rticles (without the spaces) and somebody’s autocorrect substituted the trademarked spelling for my deliberate variant! That’s one way to get compliance.

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6
Joan writes:

Great article, as always. What about seasons? I often capitalize them, but not sure if doing that is grammatically correct? Thank you!

Comment provided October 24, 2014 at 2:54 PM

[Reply]

Hi Joan,

Generally seasons shouldn’t be capitalized because it’s a generic noun. However, you WOULD capitalize a season if you were making a specific reference to that season. For example: “Fall 2014”

Thanks for your question!
Courtney

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David Croucher writes:

We don’t do ‘Fall’ in the UK, Courtney. It’s Autumn here, which I believe you Colonials do also. Is ‘Fall’ used in Florida and Southern California also, where there is no falling of leaves?

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Joan writes:

Thank you for the info, Courtney! Makes sense… :-)

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7
David Binner writes:

Timely article.

Here is a question I have had in the back of my mind for a while, but never thought to ask:

Should the word “mass” (as in attending church) be capitalized?

(I volunteer to work on a parish electronic newsletter, and sometimes have to advise readers of a change in mass time, or about special events happening after mass. But I am not sure if it should be “mass” or “Mass.”)

Comment provided October 24, 2014 at 9:35 PM

[Reply]

Hi David,

You could capitalize the word “Mass” (as in attending church) because it is a shortened version of ‘Holy Sacrifice of the Mass’, which is capitalized because it’s a proper noun. Also, using capitalization in religious terms is a way to show honor and reverence toward the religion. You will notice things like “God” and “He” are also capitalized when discussing a specific religious figure.

I hope this helps!
Courtney

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David Croucher writes:

Another good example of varied practice, David. Most of the current crop of English bibles don’t capitalize the attributes or pronouns of God; nor did the bibles of the Enlightenment (any more than they did for people). The practice seems to have grown up in the 18th century as capitalization for a variety of situations began to disappear; as Courtney says, Christians found themselves reluctant, for reasons of reverence, to drop the capital in relation to God when they were happy to drop it for people and other uses.

Today, then, Christians keep it for the same reason, plus as a kind of shorthand to indicate by a capitalized pronoun that God is being referred to when you’d otherwise need to clarify. My late 18th century Prayer Book doesn’t capitalize pronouns for God, but a doggerel psalter bound at the back of it does. My favourite modern bibles don’t, but modern worship songs do. Maybe times are a-changing again!

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8
Scott M writes:

For example #6 “Brands” – I think “iPad” was a bad example ;)

Comment provided October 25, 2014 at 8:34 AM

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David Croucher writes:

iPads are fine, Scott; variant spellings and capitalizations in trademarks have been around for a couple of centuries to make trademarking easier.

But Scottish names, Courtney? No, no, no! Not even as a brand. ‘Mac’ and ‘Mc’ mean ‘son of’ in Gaelic and, depending on personal preference, the name proper that follows may or may not begin with a capital. So Mcleod or McLeod are both correct and it is the owner’s preference which to use – no-one else’s. (By the way, the Gaelic ‘McLeod’ is pronounced mac-cloud; many emigrant Scots anglicized it on arrival at Staten Island to McCloud, the second capital helping with pronunciation. Like wise, some swapped it around to, for example, ‘Donaldson’ – but not the famous Macdonald, MacDonald or McDonald brothers!)

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9
Salihu S Dikko writes:

This is a very useful article that must be taken very serious by all. Even if, you are perfect in handling the capitalization issues as rolled out above, you must still need to be more extra careful, so that, other Authors else where do not laugh at you. And by so doing every now and then, will make you get used to them,so much so, that even under any condition you happen to find you self at the time of writing, you will never commit the mistake of applying them wrongly.
And, this is why, it is said that: learning never ends, till one dies off.

Comment provided October 25, 2014 at 2:55 PM

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10
Dave Hornbeck writes:

It is hard to argue against using the best grammar, and spelling, and punctuation, and capitalization possible. A writer can be conveying the most important thought in the universe, only to lose a large part of their audience to an errant “u”.

Comment provided October 25, 2014 at 4:33 PM

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11
Yzenith writes:

This article good to me, I am learning writing English, Capitalization is basic skill

Comment provided October 25, 2014 at 9:05 PM

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12
Deena writes:

What about “Internet” versus “internet” when it’s not the first word in a sentence?

Comment provided October 29, 2014 at 2:49 PM

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David Croucher writes:

My guess, Deena? Treat it like other nouns now it’s commonplace. So a capital letter if it’s part of a Proper Noun. “New internet protocols were released yesterday.” “We’re now coming towards the Internet of All Things.” And maybe (personal choice?) “Fox News was the last network to remind us that The Internet turns 30 today.”

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13
htsashok writes:

Ah! Pretty good article, it just simply organized well. I am writing a content for my own blog from last year, from that I’ve learnt many strategies while publishing the content…
I appreciate to present a informative article over here.
Note that, some of the phrase must be capitalize in between them e.g: “eCommerce”

Comment provided October 31, 2014 at 12:47 AM

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14
Victor writes:

Great post. In fact, this is one of my interesting subjects.What a professional clarity in your explanation!Thanks for this informative article.

Comment provided February 3, 2015 at 8:42 PM

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15
M,Akram writes:

Thank you for a lucid and well thought out post. Wishing you continued success

Comment provided February 14, 2015 at 5:02 PM

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