Some days it seems like basic capitalization is becoming a thing of the past. With texting, auto-correct, and even intuitive typing in word processing programs, it’s easy to just not bother with a silly little thing like capitalization. I’ve been guilty of rushing through a text and not bothering to check and see if my phone automatically changed the i to I or not.
Typos and all lowercase in texts to your friends is one thing, but when it comes to actual writing (as in a blog post, story, query letter, resume, school paper, etc.) capitalization matters. I’m going to highlight just the basics here. Refer to your style manual of choice (Chicago, AP, etc.) for the finer points of capitalization for things like acronyms, honorary titles for individuals or groups, headings and subheadings in articles, and so forth.
The first word of a sentence
This should be a no-brainer. The first letter of the first word of every sentence should be capitalized, even if the word is “the,” like in this sentence.
Proper names include:
People’s names – Joe, Sue Smith, or yours truly Grace Robinson
Place names – America, New York City, Grand Canyon
Other proper names (brands, stores, organizations, etc.) – the White House, the Blue Angels, Saks Fifth Avenue
In English, the only pronoun that gets regularly capitalized is “I.” This makes English unusual, because in most languages, the first person singular personal pronoun is no different from “he,” “they,” or “you.”
Book, movie, and song titles
The Notebook – as in the Nicholas Sparks novel, or the movie based on his novel. If you’re writing about just a random notebook, it would not be capitalized – unless it’s the first word of the sentence, of course.
“Let it Go” – a perfectly normal phrase, but if you’re referring to the song from Frozen (see, more capitalization), then it now goes in caps.
Other Really Important Words
This is sort of a joke, and sort of not – it mostly depends on context. Unconventional capitalization can be used for humorous effect in a blog post, like this Really Important Post about Capitalization that you’re currently reading. Capitalizing ordinarily non-proper nouns is common in genre fiction like fantasy, such as the One Ring in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. “One” and “ring” are common, unimportant words, but in the context of that story, the capitalization lets the reader know that this particular Ring is anything but common.
One important thing to note, though, about capitalizing ordinary words for emphasis: it’s basically universally agreed that texting or posting on social media IN ALL CAPS is the equivalent of shouting, and should be used sparingly. And by sparingly, I mean putting ONE word in all caps for emphasis, NOT THE ENTIRE BLASTED POST. (That’s my opinion – and widely-agreed-upon internet etiquette).
So there you have it – a few small basic rules of capitalization. As I mentioned, please refer to an actual style guide if you get bogged down with capitalization details. But in the meantime, sticking to these basic rules for school papers and internet posts can help add a little professional polish to your work.
3 thoughts on “The Nitty-Gritty of Writing: Capitalization”
Great post! Some other things I see while editing that should be noted.
The names of God should always be capitalized. Even when referring to God with a pronoun you should capitalize it.
The seasons of the year should NOT be capitalized. They are winter, spring, summer and fall.
Names on the compass should NOT be capitalized. They are north, east, south and west.
Job titles are tricky. If it is used as part of the name like Editor Pamela Rose Williams capitalize it. Why? Well grammatically because used in that way it is part of the proper noun. However, if the tile appears after the name it IS NOT capitalized, as in Pamela Rose Williams, editor. Why? Because now that title has become an adjective. [I regularly break this rule]
There is my two cents… well 4 cents, I suppose.
Those are all good points – thanks for adding them! I could have made this post so much longer. Maybe I should have! 😉
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