What Words Should You Capitalize in French?

Far fewer words are capitalized in French than in English

The rare and elusive French capital...
The rare and elusive French capital... PhotoAlto/Anne-Sophie Bost/Getty Images

French and English capitalization are quite different. Many words that must be capitalized in English cannot be capitalized in French. Generally speaking, French words are not capitalized as often as in English, even in titles of published works.

So make sure that you're not over-capitalizing your French texts. There are, of course, rules to follow, and you shouldn't capitalize French willy-nilly.

Also, here's a chance to consider the debate about whether French capital letters can or should be accented.

In publishing, it's said that Vogue magazine started this debate nearly two decades ago, when its copy style meisters decided that accents on French caps were unnecessary and, because the tiny marks are so difficult to decipher, could lead to misunderstandings on the printed page. So they were scrapped, and many other publications followed suit. What's your position?

Words Capitalized in English but Not in French:

1. First person singular subject pronoun unless it's at the beginning of the sentence.
 He said, "I love you."Il a dit « je t'aime ».
 Je suis prêt.I'm ready.
            
2. Days of the week, months of the year 
 Monday, Tuesday...lundi, mardi...
 January, February...janvier, février...
   
3. Geographic terms
 Molière Streetrue Molière
 Victor Hugo Ave.av. Victor Hugo
 Pacific Oceanl'océan Pacifique
 Mediterranean Seala mer Méditerranée
 Mont Blancle mont Blanc
    
4. Languages 
 French, English, Russianle français, l'anglais, le russe
   
5. Nationalities 
French adjectives that refer to nationalities are not capitalized, but proper nouns are.
 I'm American.Je suis américain.
 He bought a French flag.Il a acheté un drapeau français.
 She married a Spaniard.Elle s'est mariée avec un Espagnol.
 I saw an Australian.J'ai vu un Australien.
   
6. Religions
The names of most religions, their adjectives, and their adherents (proper nouns) are not capitalized in French.
ReligionAdjectiveProper Noun
 ChristianityChristian chrétienChristian
 JudaismJewishjuifJew
 HinduismHinduhindouHindu
 BuddhismBuddhistbouddhisteBuddhist
 IslamMuslimmusulmanMuslim
*Exceptions a Hindu - un Hindou
a Buddhist - un Bouddhiste
Islam - l'Islam
 
   
7. Titles in front of a proper noun are not capitalized in French, whereas they are in English. 
For example, in English we would say President Macron, because this is a title preceding a proper noun. In French, however, it is not capitalized: le président Macron, le professeur Legrand.
Ironically, though, titles and occupations that replace a person's name are capped in French: le President, Madame la Directrice. These would be lowercase in English because only official titles that directly precede a proper name are capped, never standalone titles. And completely on the end of that French capitalization spectrum are French family names in official documents, where they are often in all caps. For example: Pierre RICHARD or Victor HUGO. The reason seems to be to avoid bureaucratic mistakes.

Additional Resources

The French calendar
French subject pronouns
List of languages
List of nationalities

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    Lawless, Laura K. "What Words Should You Capitalize in French?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 11, 2017, thoughtco.com/use-of-french-capitalization-4085543. Lawless, Laura K. (2017, August 11). What Words Should You Capitalize in French? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/use-of-french-capitalization-4085543 Lawless, Laura K. "What Words Should You Capitalize in French?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/use-of-french-capitalization-4085543 (accessed December 17, 2017).