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How to Capitalize

By Stacie Heaps
Professional Writer and Editor



Capitalize Beginning of Sentences

The first word in a sentence should be capitalized.

Examples: 

The meeting will begin at 9 a.m. sharp.

Do you know where my red pen is?

Three years ago I was hired as an accountant.

If a word that would normally be considered a proper noun is not capitalized (such as the name of a company), then rewrite the sentence if possible. If it is not possible to recast the sentence, then the word should be capitalized.

Examples: 

Ebay is my favorite place to shop. (Acceptable)

My favorite place to shop is ebay. (Preferred)

Bell Hooks is my favorite writer. (Acceptable)

My favorite writer is bell hooks. (Preferred)

Capitalize Colons

Sentences that follow a colon, however, are generally left lowercase. If a colon introduces dialogue or multiple sentences, then the first word after the colon is capped.

Examples: 

Every day started out exactly the same: he would get up, read the paper during breakfast, and then head off to work.

Elizabeth had some important decisions to make: Should she accept the new job offer, or stay where she was? If she decided to stay, should she ask for a raise? And if she decided to leave, would she regret her decision?

Capitalize Quotations

The first word of a quoted sentence is generally capitalized if it is set off by a comma or colon, but it is usually not capitalized if it is run into the sentence.

Examples: 

In the meeting, John said, “Have your annual reports finished by next Tuesday.

In the meeting, John said to “have your annual reports finished by next Tuesday.”

Capitalize Notices, Mottoes, Slogans, and the Like

Notices and signs, such as those that appear on business doors, are often written in title case without quotation marks. If they are long, they are generally written in sentence case and often enclosed in quotation marks. Mottoes and slogans follow the same guidelines, though slogans or mottoes in a foreign language are generally italicized, and only the first word is capitalized.

Examples: 

Just turn left when you come to the door marked Employees Only.

Matthew ignored the Warning! Do Not Enter! sign as he breezed through the double doors..

His frequent saying, “Many hands make light work” became their family motto.

When faced with a difficult challenge, my father used to say, “A fronte praecipitium a tergo lupi.”

Capitalize Personal Names

Personal names are almost always capitalized, unless the individual expresses a strong preference to have his or her name left lowercase (as in the example of bell hooks above).

Examples: 

Joshua Matthews is our attorney.

Derrick Lancaster will arrive at the airport at 7 p.m.

However, some surnames have parts that are not capitalized.

Examples: 

The new director is Jennifer de Souza.

Johann von Trapp will be directing the meeting.

Capitalize Courtesy Titles

Courtesy titles, such as Mr., Ms., Mrs., and the like are capitalized.

Examples: 

Mr. Nathan Daniels is our new manager.

Miss Jessica Davenport will send us the report on Monday.

Abbreviations such as Jr., Sr., and so forth are also capitalized. Though traditionally these abbreviations were set off my commas, such commas are no longer required.

Examples: 

Daniel Jensen Jr. is the new hiring manager.

Sherman Rogers Sr. has been designated the new chair.

Capitalize Relations

Words that identify familial relationships, such as aunt, grandfather, and the like are generally capitalized when they immediately precede a person's name.

Examples: 

Last week we visited my Aunt Genna in Boise.

Were you able to see Grandma Jensen?

Such titles are not usually capitalized when they are not immediately followed by a name.

Examples: 

Yesterday we went and visited my uncles.

Did you know he was named after your grandfather?

However, such titles are capitalized when they are used in place of the name.

Examples: 

Have you seen my homework, Dad?

Hey, Sister, where have you been?

I can't wait till you can come for a visit, Granny!

You're looking really good, Aunt.

Capitalize Position Titles

In running text, titles of positions are generally capitalized when they immediately precede a person's name.

Examples: 

Tomorrow Professor David Mitchell will lecture on current environmental issues.

Did you know that Doctor Rebecca Donalds has worked here for 15 years?

I believe that Vice President Jared Wahlquist made the announcement yesterday afternoon.

Such titles are also capitalized when they follow a name on plaques, lists of names in dossiers and the like, and in similar situations.

Examples: 

Warren Bateman, Professor

Lindsey Michaels, Chief Executive Officer

Margaret Nelson, D.D.S.

They are generally left lowercase when not used with a name.

Capitalize Epithets

A word or phrase that is used with or instead of a person's name is capitalized.

Examples: 

Last month I saw an interesting documentary on Ivan the Terrible.

My son is doing a report for school on Stonewall Jackson.

If you want to mention someone's nickname as part of his or her given name, put quotation marks around the nickname.

Examples: 

This is my new colleague, Jerry “Fix-It” Johnson.

Have you met our new secretary, Amanda “A. J.” Wheeler?

Capitalize Business, Organization, and Institution Names

The names of businesses, organizations, and institutions are generally capitalized.

Examples: 

Before coming here, I worked for Nelson Company.

They were just purchased by MW Telecom.

Abbreviations of company names, organizations, and government agencies are also capitalized.

Examples: 

I work in the IT department.

Have you ever eaten at IHOP?

I believe that they are wanted by the FBI.

Acronyms, or pronounceable words formed from the first letter of a multiword name, are also generally capitalized.

Examples: 

She is a volunteer with UNICEF.

Yesterday an important NATO meeting was held.

Capitalize Product Names and Objects

Actual product names and brands and other objects of distinction are capitalized.

Examples: 

Did you purchase that Ford Mustang brand new?

Do we have any Floor Shine?

However, generic names for such products are not capitalized.

Examples: 

Did you purchase that car brand new?

Do we have any floor cleaner?

Capitalize Titles of Books, Movies, Albums, and the Like

Titles of books, movies, music albums, collections of poetry, and so forth are generally capitalized and are italicized. In such cases, all first and last words and all other words except for articles, prepositions (regardless of length), and conjunctions are capitalized.

Examples: 

Last night we went to see The Scarlet Pimpernell.

Have you read the book The Truth regarding Harriett?

Do you remember Where the Red Fern Grows?

The titles of very long poems, such as the epic poems by Homer, are italicized.

Examples: 

My favorite epic poem is The Iliad.

Did you ever read The Aeneid?

The first word after a colon is capitalized in a title even if it normally would not be.

Examples: 

Read the first chapter in the manual Electrical Wiring: A Practical Guide.

Have you read his biography, My Life in the Fast Lane: The Early Years?

Shorter poems, chapter titles, headings, and the like are also typically capitalized. Names of poems (and often chapter or section titles) are enclosed in quotation marks when referred to.

Examples: 

He said his favorite poem by Poe was “The Raven.”

I've only read the first chapter, “Making it on Your Own.”

Capitalize Scientific Names

In official scientific (Latin) names of plants and animals, the genus is capitalized and the species is left lowercase, and both are italicized. When the genus is abbreviated, the same rules apply. Phyla, orders, and other designations are not italicized.

Examples: 

The chimpanzee, or Pan troglodytes, is one of the more intelligent species.

The first animal we saw was a tiger, or P. tigris.

Common names of plants and animals are lowercased, except when part of the name is a proper noun, in which case the proper noun only is capitalized.

Examples: 

At the zoo, we saw an Asian lion.

Have you ever heard of a Cape Barren goose?

Capitalize Medical Terms

The names of medical conditions; diseases; and procedures, tests, and operations are left lowercase. For diseases that include a proper name, such as Alzheimer's, that word only should be capitalized.

Examples: 

Yesterday Jane went in for a sonogram.

Did you know that her son had Down syndrome?

Names of infections are not capitalized, though the specific names of infectious organisms are capitalized and italicized, like other scientific names.

Examples: 

Strep throat, or streptococcal infection, is caused by tiny organisms called Streptococcus.

Capitalize Geographical Locations

Names of geographic locations—such as city, state, province, county, and country names—are capitalized.

Examples: 

He just moved from Tallahassee, Florida.

I believe that the director is from Carter County.

We visited Scotland last year.

Two-letter abbreviations of U.S. state names are also capped.

Examples: 

Please send all checks to 333 Mercury Way, Denver, CO 12345.

Our address is 555 Sunshine Dr., Sunny City, CA 98765.

Capitalize Geographic Features

Many important geographic features are also capitalized.

Examples: 

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon?

On our way home we passed Lake Mead.

Last year we drove through Death Valley.

However, when referring g to two or more geographical features together, the names, but not the feature designations, are capitalized.

Examples: 

I've only ever been in the Colorado and Virgin rivers.

He has hiked in both the Rocky and Appalachian mountains.

Capitalize Geographic Designations and Directions

Geographic designations are generally capitalized.

Examples: 

We lived in the South for many years.

Winters in the Northeast can be brutal.

Directions, on the other hand, are lowercased.

Examples: 

Oklahoma City is south of Des Moines.

He lives in the north part of the city.

I believe that Atlanta is southeast of here.

Capitalize Military Names and Terms

Titles of military groups—such as militaries, air forces, battalions, and the like—are capitalized, as are unofficial names used to refer to such groups (or Special Forces within such groups, as the Navy Seals).

Examples: 

Her husband served in the 567th Engineer Battalion.

Uncle Jed used to be in the Army reserve.

The names of specific wars, battles, revolutions, and similar military events are also capitalized.

Examples: 

He served in the Gulf War and later in Afghanistan.

My son is writing a report on the American Revolution.

Capitalize Religious Names and Roles

Titles of high officials in religious positions are often capitalized.

Examples: 

Do you know who the current Dali Lama is?

Have you ever met the Pope?

Other titles of lesser positions are generally lowercase.

Examples: 

Have you met the new pastor?

Maybe you should talk to the bishop about it.

I believe he is the new priest.

The names of religions are also capitalized.

Examples: 

He told me he was Baptist.

Did you say that she belongs to the Catholic Church?

Capitalize National and Ethnic Titles

Names designating national origin or ethnicity are capitalized.

Examples: 

My ancestors were Swedish.

The neighborhood is primarily made up of African Americans.

I love to eat Japanese food.

Capitalize Months, Significant Dates, Holidays, Eras, and Seasons

Names of months, special dates, and the names of holidays are capitalized.

Examples: 

They plan to hire more employees in January.

Will you plant a tree in honor of Arbor Day?

We will have a company luncheon the day before Thanksgiving.

The names of eras are generally capitalized.

Examples: 

I believe that that species became extinct during the Ice Age.

Didn't they live during the Paleotonic era?

The names of seasons are not capitalized.

Examples: 

The fall is my favorite time of year.

We plan to move our office in the spring.

Capitalize Historic Periods and Events

The names of historic periods and events are generally capitalized.

Examples: 

My grandmother was a teenager during the time of the Great Depression.

Do you remember the Cold War?

Capitalize Adjectives Derived from Proper Nouns

Adjectives derived from proper nouns are often, though not always, capitalized.

Examples: 

My favorite plays are Shakespearean tragedies.

He exhibits an almost Machiavellian attitude.

Everyone abhors John's draconian policies.

He loves to cook in his dutch oven.

Capitalize Preference

Many companies and organizations prefer to capitalize such things as departments, titles of position, and similar designations. In such cases, it is important to learn and adhere to the preferred house style.

Examples: 

My brother works in their IT Department.

John Buchanan was chosen as the new President of Global NG.

In my opinion, the Company is the best place to work for in the city.


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