Capitalization Rules

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This guide to capitalization rules is especially for ESL students. It contains clear explanations for each rule with simple examples of correct sentences. Once you understand these rules, try the capitalization rules quiz to test yourself.

First Word in a Sentence

Always capitalize the first word of a new sentence.

There is something wrong with this cheese. However, I'm hungry.
Strange things have happened recently. I think the police should investigate.

The Pronoun I

Only the pronoun "I' is capitalized. All other pronouns (she, they, him, me, us, etc.) are NOT capitalized.

He asked me where I had bought my jacket.
If I see her, I will give her your message.

Proper Nouns

There are many special rules concerning proper nouns. Generally, Proper nouns can be understood as the names of specific people, places, things, pets, organizations, etc. Here are some specific rules to follow:

I visited California on my vacation.
She gave Peter a present for his birthday.

The Directions 

Capitalize North, South, East, and West when contained in the name of a place (state, country, etc.) but not when used for giving directions.

Correct

My friend lives in South Carolina.
We are planning a vacation in South Africa.

Incorrect

She lives in Southern Europe. SHOULD BE She lives in southern Europe.
I'm going to visit my friends in Eastern Oregon. SHOULD BE I'm going to visit my friends in eastern Oregon.

Members of an Organization

The Neighborhood Players are presenting a musical next week.
Some Washington Democrats would like to see the company up.

Names of Companies

The name of a company is similar to the name of a person and needs to be capitalized. 

My niece loves Converse shoes.
Do you prefer Siesta or Aloha products?

Periods of History

Capitalize periods of time in history that have specific names.

The Psychedelic Sixties were pretty groovy baby!
The Dot Com Era lasted far shorter than many people expected.

Events

Names of specific events should be capitalized. 

I went to the Tomato Growers Conference in Salinas last weekend.
Have you ever attended the Technoland Convergence Festival?

Acronyms

Each letter of an acronym (a letter for the first letter of every word: CIA -> Central Intelligence Agency)

I prefer to watch PBS tv whenever possible.
The ICAM commissioned a study on OBLOG.

The Gods

Names of gods are capitalized, including Allah, Vishnu, and God. The word god is generally not capitalized if it is used to refer to the generic idea of a deity, nor is it capitalized when it refers to multiple gods.

Wotan is one of the gods in Wagner's Ring Cycle.
The pastor prayed that God should deliver us from our sins.

Days, Months But Not Seasons

Both days and months are capitalized but not NOT seasons. 

Correct

She flew to Dallas in September.
Do you have any time on Monday?

Incorrect

I love skiing in Winter. SHOULD BE I love skiing in winter.
They visited Bob last Summer. SHOULD BE They visited Bob last summer.

Countries, Languages, and Nationality Adjectives

All words the indicate a specific country should be capitalized including adjectives describing food, customs, etc.

 

I lived in Italy for over 10 years.
Have you ever had any really expensive French wine?
Do you speak Russian?

Mom and Dad

Capitalize family relationships when used in place of a name

Have you given Mom her present yet?
I think Dad needs some time off work.

Titles Before Names

Titles are capitalized only when they are part of the name. 

Correct

The soldier wrote to General Smith and asked for advice.
Have you spoken to Vice Principal Smithers yet?

Incorrect

George Washington was the first President of the United States. SHOULD BE George Washington was the first president of the United States.
Peter Smith was elected Mayor in 1995. SHOULD BE Peter Smith was elected mayor in 1995.

Beginning and Ending of Letters

Start and end your letters with capital letters. 

Dear Mr. Smith,
Best regards,

First Word in a Quote

This is true even if the quote occurs in the middle of a sentence.

The last time I talked to Peter he said, "Study hard and get to bed early!"
Thomas Patterman was a simple man who said, "Give me life, liberty and a bottle of rum!"

Main or Content Words in Titles

Remember that content words include nouns, pronouns, principal verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

Rainy Days and Mondays
How to Win Friends and Influence your Neighbors

First Word in Each Line of Poetry

Each first word in a poem should be written with capital letters. 

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I think I said He's in love with you!

Try the capitalization rules quiz to test your understanding.