A Short Guide to Capitalization

Capital letters
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A capital letter is the form of an alphabetical letter (such as A, B, C) used to begin a proper noun or the first word in a sentence. A capital letter is an uppercase letter in contrast to lower case. Verb: capitalize. Also known as majuscule, uppercase, upper-case, block letter, and caps.

In classical Greek and Latin writing, only capital letters (also called majuscules) were used.

Examples and Observations

  • "By the sixth and seventh centuries the various letter forms we now use had been invented . . .. From the ninth century on all writing in the Latin alphabet, in whatever style or hand, used capital and small-letter pairs as we do now."
    (Thomas A. Sebeok, Current Trends in Linguistics, 1974)
  • "A capital is always used for the first letter of a sentence. It is a universal rule. But the same cannot be said for the capitalization of names or 'proper' nouns. Style varies wildly between--and even within--publications such as national newspapers and magazines. Apply commonsense rules. All names of people and places--Peter Cook, Paraguay, Piccadilly Circus--take capitals. All titles of specific works of art--Citizen Kane, the Mona Lisa, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Anna Karenina--take a capital. Languages and nationalities--English, the French--take capitals. Institutions--the Houses of Parliament, the White House, the Anglican Church--take capitals. Days, months and formally defined periods of history--Monday, February, the Middle Ages--take capitals. . . ."
    "Words deriving from proper names usually take a capital--as Christian from Christ and Marxist from Marx. But some such words, known as eponyms, have come into everyday use and no longer take a capital."
    (Ned Halley, Dictionary of Modern English Grammar. Wordsworth, 2005)
  • She laid the folded newspaper on the counter between us, and my eye caught the words DISASTER, FAILURE and CRASH."
    (Eva Figes, Nelly's Version. Secker & Warburg, 1977)

Trends in Capitalization

"'I am a poet: I distrust anything that starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop' (Antjie Krog)
"Times have changed since the days of medieval manuscripts with elaborate hand-illuminated capital letters, or Victorian documents in which not just proper names, but virtually all nouns, were given initial caps (a Tradition valiantly maintained to this day by Estate Agents). A look through newspaper archives would show greater use of capitals the further back you went. The tendency towards lowercase, which in part reflects a less formal, less deferential society, has been accelerated by the internet: some web companies, and many email users, have dispensed with capitals altogether."
(David Marsh and Amelia Hodsdon, Guardian Style, 3rd ed. Guardian Books, 2010)
"If in doubt use lower case unless it looks absurd."
(The Economist Style Guide. Profile Books, 2005)

The Lighter Side of Capital Letters

"He believed in a door. He must find that door. The door was the way to . . . to . . .
"The Door was The Way.
"Capital letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to."
(Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. Pocket Books, 1987)

  • Carol Fisher: This is Scott ffolliott. Newspaperman, same as you. London correspondent. Mr. Haverstock, Mr. ffolliott.
  • Scott ffolliott: With a double "f."
  • Johnny Jones: How do you do?
  • Scott ffolliott: How do you do?
  • Johnny Jones: I don't get the double "f."
  • Scott ffolliott: They're at the beginning, old boy. Both small "f"s.
  • Johnny Jones: They can't be at the beginning.
  • Scott ffolliott: One of my ancestors had his head chopped off by Henry VIII, and his wife dropped the capital letter to commemorate the occasion. There it is.
  • Johnny Jones: How do you say it, like a stutter?
  • Scott ffolliott: No, just straight "fuh."
  • (Laraine Day, George Sanders, and Joel McCrea in Foreign Correspondent, 1940)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "A Short Guide to Capitalization." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-capital-letter-uppercase-1689823. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). A Short Guide to Capitalization. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-capital-letter-uppercase-1689823 Nordquist, Richard. "A Short Guide to Capitalization." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-capital-letter-uppercase-1689823 (accessed March 21, 2023).

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