What Words Should You Capitalize in French?

Far fewer words are capitalized in French than in English

The rare and elusive French capital...
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The rules for capitalization are quite different in French and English. Many words that are capitalized in English cannot be capitalized in French. Put another way, French words are not capitalized as often as in English, even for titles of published works. The tables below list various terms and phrases that you would capitalize in English but which are lowercase in French together with explanations for the differences in capitalization rules in the two languages as needed.

Words Capitalized in English but Not in French

The first-person singular pronoun "I" is always uppercase in English but not always in French. The days of the week, geographic terms, languages, nationalities, and even religions are nearly always uppercase in English but rarely in French. The table lists English words or phrases that are capitalized on the left with the French translations, which are not uppercase, on the right. 

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 ».
I'm ready. Je suis prêt.
2. Days of the week, months of the year
Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday lundi, mardi, mercredi, jeudi, vendredi, samedi, dimanche
January, February, March, April, May, June, July,August, September, October, November, December

janvier, février, mars, avril, mai, juin, juillet, août, septembre, octobere, november, décembre

3. Geographic terms
Molière Street rue Molière
Victor Hugo Ave. av. Victor Hugo
Pacific Ocean l'océan Pacifique
Mediterranean Sea la mer Méditerranée
Mont Blanc le mont Blanc
4. Languages
French, English, Russian le 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.

The names of most religions, their adjectives, and their adherents (proper nouns) are not capitalized in French, with a few exceptions, as listed below.

Religion Adjective Proper Noun
Christianity Christian chrétien Christian
Judaism Jewish juif Jew
Hinduism Hindu hindou Hindu
Buddhims Buddhist bouddhiste Buddhist
Islam Muslim musulman Muslim

*Exceptions: a Hindu > un Hindou

a Buddhist > un Bouddhiste
Islam > l'Islam

Titles: The Exceptions

Titles in front of a proper noun are not capitalized in French, whereas they are in English. For example, in English, you would say President Emmanuel Macron or President Macron because "President" is a title proceeding a proper noun. In French, however, the title is not capitalized, such as with le président Macron or le professeur Legrand. But there are exceptions even to this rule.

Titles and occupations that replace a person's name are capitalized in French, such as le President or Madame la Directrice (madam director). By contrast, these terms are lowercase in English because only official titles that directly precede a proper noun are capitalized in English, never standalone titles. At the other end of the French capitalization spectrum are French family names in official documents, which are often in all caps, such as Pierre RICHARD or Victor HUGO. The reason seems to be to avoid bureaucratic mistakes.

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Team, ThoughtCo. "What Words Should You Capitalize in French?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/use-of-french-capitalization-4085543. Team, ThoughtCo. (2023, April 5). What Words Should You Capitalize in French? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/use-of-french-capitalization-4085543 Team, ThoughtCo. "What Words Should You Capitalize in French?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/use-of-french-capitalization-4085543 (accessed May 29, 2023).