All About Capitalization

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

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The practice of using capital letters in writing or printing is called capitalization.

Proper nouns, key words in titles, the pronoun I, and beginnings of sentences are generally capitalized. However, certain conventions for capitalizing words, names, and titles vary from one style guide to another.

Guidelines and Examples:

  • The Concept of Proper Nouns
    "Traditional grammar books have included the terms proper and improper as part of the definition of nouns. These are not linguistic classifications, but rather spelling conventions that different languages use differently. For example, while English uses capital letters for months and days of the week, French, Spanish, and Italian do not. German capitalizes many nouns that English does not. Many languages do not capitalize the names of their language (French vs. francais). The concept of proper (and improper!) belong in the teaching of spelling, and we suggest you make this distinction with your students."
    (Evelyn B. Rothstein and Andrew S. Rothstein, English Grammar Instruction That Works! Corwin, 2008)
  • Capitalization With Titles and Positions
    "The range of titles runs the gamut from CEO to chief juggler: Chairperson Bruno Bernstein, Dr. Bruno Bernstein, Director Bruno Bernstein, Maestro Bruno Bernstein, CEO Bruno Bernstein, Judge Bruno Bernstein, Vice President Bruno Bernstein. If you're using the label as a title, it precedes the name and requires capitalization like any other ordinary title (Mr., Mrs., or Dr.).
    "If you're using the label only as a position and it follows the name, don't capitalize it:
    He hired Orilla Ortega, vice president of finance, to take over in April. (a generic reference to the position she holds.)
    Vice President of Finance Orilla Ortega will take over in April. (The title Vice President of Finance is used as a title before her name in lieu of Dr., Mrs., or Ms.) . . .
    Our new vice president of finance, Orilla Ortega, will take over in April. ( Vice president of finance is a generic reference to a position here; it is not used as a title because of the pronoun our and the commas around her name.) . . .
    "Note: Here's an exception to the rule: Capitalize position titles of state, federal, or international officials of high distinction, such as President of the United States or cabinet members. Mr. President, Madam Secretary. Also keep in mind that some organizations create their own style rules, creating their own list of 'high officials.'"
    (Dianna Booher, Booher's Rules of Business Grammar. McGraw-Hill, 2008)
  • Capitalization With Family Names
    "Family names like mother, father, mom, dad, uncle, etc. need to be capitalized when they're proper nouns--'Why are you hitting me, Father?' 'I'm scared of Aunt Regina, Mom'--but are lower-cased when they're common nouns: 'My dad is abusive'; 'Our aunt held seances whenever we visited, and I finally told my mom about it.'"
    (David Foster Wallace, "English 183A, Your Liberal-Arts $ at Work." The David Foster Wallace Reader. Hachette, 2014)
  • Capitalization With Trademark Names
    "Many objects or products have trade names that are usually capitalized: Chevrolet, Honda, Coke, and Xerox, for example. While it is not uncommon to refer to colas or photocopies in general as 'cokes' or 'xeroxes,' the trademark holders aren't very pleased with such usages . . .. In more formal writing, especially when rights to products and their names can be an issue, it is necessary to preserve commercial capitalization. When in doubt as to whether a name is trademarked, refer to a style manual that lists brand names."
    (Princeton Language Institute and Joseph Hollander, 21st Century Grammar Handbook. Laurel, 1995)
  • Capitalization After Colons
    "When an independent clause follows a colon, the independent clause can begin with a capital letter (though this is a little uncommon):
    We simply could not reach a decision about the proposal: We [or we] couldn't agree on the criteria for evaluating it. Never use a capital letter after a colon when what follows the colon is not a complete sentence."
    (Mark Lester and Larry Beason, The Mcgraw-Hill Handbook of Grammar and Usage. McGraw-Hill, 2005)
  • Capitalization for Emphasis
    "The Americans are all mystified about why the English make such a big thing out of tea because most Americans HAVE NEVER HAD A GOOD CUP OF TEA. That's why they don't understand."
    (Douglas Adams, "Tea." The Salmon of Doubt: Hitchhiking the Galaxy One Last Time. Macmillan, 2002)
    "It seemed to Beach the butler that this young man Marson had Got Above Himself."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Something Fresh, 1915)

Pronunciation: ka-pe-te-le-ZA-shen

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "All About Capitalization." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). All About Capitalization. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "All About Capitalization." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 28, 2023).