When to Use Uppercase or Capital Letters

Do you know when to capitalize words?

Capital

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In older literature and poetry written in the 1800s and before, many random words are capitalized. When we see this old writing, it looks odd, doesn't it?

Many people still misuse uppercase letters, perhaps capitalizing words to give them importance or emphasis, though this is not correct.

Do you know which words to capitalize to demonstrate a proper grasp of the English language? There are only three instances when you need capital letters: proper names, titles, and the beginning of sentences.

01
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Proper Names

The Eiffel Tower in Paris against a blue sky.

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Proper names are always capitalized. This includes names of people, places, specific things, institutions, organizations, groups, historical periods, historical events, calendar events, and deities.

Examples:

  • Institutions: Columbia College, the Eastman School of Music
  • Governmental matters: Congress (lowercase congressional), the U.S. Constitution (lowercase constitutional), the Electoral College, Department of Defense, Federal Communications Commission
  • Historical events: the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812
  • Holidays: Groundhog Day, Easter
  • Structures: the Twin Towers, the Eiffel Tower
  • Natural and manmade landmarks: Mount Vesuvius, the Hoover Dam
  • Nicknames: Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson, Bill "Spaceman" Lee
  • Organizations: American Center for Civil Justice
  • Days of the week and months of the year: Wednesday, January, Saturday
  • Abbreviations of proper names: CSI, NASA, FEMA
  • Companies: Pillsbury Company, Microsoft
  • Planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth
  • Religions and names of deities: Muslim, Jewish, God, Jehovah
  • Races, nationalities, and tribes: Caucasian, African-American, Eskimo
  • Special occasions: the Olympic Games, the Sundance Film Festival
  • Streets and roads: Interstate 44
02
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Titles

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Capitalize titles that precede a name, but do not capitalize titles that follow a name:

  • Mayor Stacy White; Stacy White, the mayor
  • Queen Elizabeth; Elizabeth, the queen of England

You will see this often with corporate titles. Our tendency is to capitalize all titles:

  • Accounting Manager Martha Grant; Martha Grant, manager of accounting

The titles of books, movies, and other works are capitalized except for articles, short conjunctions, and short prepositions:

  • "Pirates of the Caribbean"
  • "When We Were Romans"
03
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Sentences

Close up of a

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The first word of every sentence is always capitalized. This is pretty self-explanatory and universally understood.

Capitalize the beginning of a sentence when it is part of a quote:

  • The teacher said, "Your use of uppercase letters is improving."

If a phrase fits into the larger sentence, it does not require capitalization:

  • The doctor told us the nurse would “be here shortly,” but she never came.

Always use uppercase for the pronoun "I."

04
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Using All Caps

Close up angled view of a computer keyboard with

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Typing in all capital letters is akin to shouting at someone in person. It's commonly used by online hustlers to try to grab your attention.

Whether you are using email, Twitter, or some other online form of communication, shouting in all caps is considered inappropriate and bad netiquette. It also evokes stronger reader emotions. There are exceptions to the rule. It's acceptable for subject lines and headings to appear in all caps.