Capitalization

Text messages, casual e-mails, and instant messages often ignore the rules of capitalization. In fact, it can seem unnecessary to capitalize in these contexts. In more formal communication, however, correct capitalization is vital.

Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence

Incorrect: the museum has a new butterfly exhibit.
Correct: The museum has a new butterfly exhibit.
Incorrect: cooking can be therapeutic.
Correct: Cooking can be therapeutic.

Capitalize Proper Nouns

Proper nouns—the names of specific people, places, objects, streets, buildings, events, or titles of individuals—are always capitalized.

Incorrect: He grew up in harlem, new york.
Correct: He grew up in Harlem, New York.
Incorrect: The sears tower in chicago has a new name.
Correct: The Sears Tower in Chicago has a new name.

Tip

Capitalize nationalities, races, languages, and religions. For example, American, African American, Hispanic, Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and so on.

Do not capitalize common nouns, which are the nouns for people, places, things, buildings, events, titles, and ideas when the noun is used in general or common way. See the following chart for the difference between proper nouns and common nouns. (Note that other rules override this, such as the rule to capitalize the first letter of a sentence.)

Common Noun Proper Noun
museum The Art Institute of Chicago
theater Apollo Theater
country Malaysia
uncle Uncle Javier
doctor Dr. Jackson
book Pride and Prejudice
college Smith College
war the Spanish-American War
historical event The Renaissance

Exercise 1

Write proper nouns for each common noun that is listed. The first one in each has been done for you.

Common noun: river

  1. Mississippi

Common noun: musician

  1. Ronnie James Dio

Common noun: magazine

  1. Fangoria

Capitalize Days of the Week, Months of the Year, and Holidays

Incorrect: On wednesday, I will be traveling to Austin for a music festival.
Correct: On Wednesday, I will be traveling to Austin for a music festival.
Incorrect: The fourth of july is my favorite holiday.
Correct: The Fourth of July is my favorite holiday.

Capitalize Titles

For titles of works, such as articles, books, movies, songs–even your own essays in your classes–capitalize the first letter of each word, except for prepositions and articles that appear in-between the first and last words.

Incorrect: The novel We have always lived in the castle by Shirley Jackson is one of my favorites.
Correct: The novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is one of my favorites.

Exercise 2

Edit the following sentences by correcting the capitalization of the titles or names.

  1. The prince of england enjoys playing polo.
  2. “Ode to a nightingale” is a sad poem.
  3. My sister loves to read magazines such as the new yorker.
  4. The house on Mango street is an excellent novel written by Sandra Cisneros.
  5. My physician, dr. alvarez, always makes me feel comfortable in her office.

Exercise 3

Edit the following paragraphs by correcting the capitalization.

david grann’s the lost City of Z mimics the snake-like winding of the amazon River. The three distinct Stories that are introduced are like twists in the River. First, the Author describes his own journey to the amazon in the present day, which is contrasted by an account of percy fawcett’s voyage in 1925 and a depiction of James Lynch’s expedition in 1996. Where does the river lead these explorers? the answer is one that both the Author and the reader are hungry to discover.
The first lines of the preface pull the reader in immediately because we know the author, david grann, is lost in the amazon. It is a compelling beginning not only because it’s thrilling but also because this is a true account of grann’s experience. grann has dropped the reader smack in the middle of his conflict by admitting the recklessness of his decision to come to this place. the suspense is further perpetuated by his unnerving observation that he always considered himself A Neutral Witness, never getting personally involved in his stories, a notion that is swiftly contradicted in the opening pages, as the reader can clearly perceive that he is in a dire predicament—and frighteningly involved.

Writing at Work

Using all capital letters in a message comes across like shouting. In addition, all capital letters are actually more difficult to read and may annoy the reader. To avoid “shouting” at or annoying your reader, follow the rules of capitalization and find other ways to emphasize your point.

License

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The Writing Textbook by Josh Woods, editor and contributor, as well as an unnamed author (by request from the original publisher), and other authors named separately is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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