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Capitalization

Capitalization rules are numerous and quite often challenging. This discussion focuses on the most basic rules used in capitalization. Consider the following examples:

Incorrect: The king of Persia was assassinated.
Incorrect: The courses in English are challenging, but the courses in Mathematics are impossible.

Rule to Remember

Capitalize the first word of a sentence, unique people, places, or things.

Correcting the Problem

In the first sentence, the word King refers to a unique title and it, therefore, needs to be capitalized. In the second sentence, mathematics refers to a general subject and not a specific course. It needs to be in lower case.

Correct: The King of Persia was assassinated.
Correct: The courses in English are challenging, but the courses in mathematics are impossible.

The most general rule for capitalization is to use capital letters always

  • to begin a sentence
  • for unique people, places, or things
  • for some abbreviations
Correct: Considering economic differences between North and South, the Civil War was inevitable.

Capitalization in Sentences

Always begin sentences with a capitalized word. This may mean changing numerals to letters:

Correct: One hundred and thirty-five votes were needed to win the election.
Correct: Nineteen Eighty-Four was written by George Orwell.

Capitalization rules also apply to excerpts and quotations when you adapt these to begin a sentence. Here is one example:

[Line as it appears in the text]:

Correct: But Mario couldn't deliver my note as no one really knows to this day where Lio is.

[As it appears when included in your paper at the beginning of a sentence]:

Correct: 'No one really knows to this day where Lio is' serves to affirm the author's reality, that Lio is yet another victim of the dictator's cruel and motiveless inhumanity.

But when a sentence is broken up into fragments for emphasis, subsequent parts are not capitalized:

Correct: What should I do? stay? or leave?

Word Capitalization

Capitalize the following words:

Individual, unique names, and attached titles Places and regions

John Smith
Eleanor Roosevelt
Governor Schwartz

Chicago
Midwest
South America
the North Pole

Groups or organizations Languages

Olympics Committee
Chicago Bears
Supreme Court
Lions Club
Kiwanis

Spanish
English
Tagalog

Trademarks and company names Historical events, periods, documents

Coca-Cola
Ford
IBM
Hyundai, Inc.

Middle Ages
Declaration of Independence
the Magna Carta
the Civil War

Lists after colons Days, months, holidays

Our mother had rules for us: 1) Come home on time. 2) Eat dinner. 3) Go to bed.

MondayMarch
New Year's Day


But NOT seasons or centuries

fall, spring, eighteenth century

Capitalize the following words:

Book titles, but not their prepositions or articles  The names of ships are both capitalized and italicized

Gone with the Wind
Under the Tuscan Sun
the Koran
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents
the Bible
The Old Man and the Sea

the Queen Mary
the Lusitania

Note the exception: unlike other books, sacred writings are neither italicized nor underlined.

Abbreviations

States Time Periods Educational Degrees
NJ CA USA
omit periods
BC BCE CE AD MA BA Ed.D. PhD

Always consider your audience. Abbreviations should be used only when they are terms familiar to your reader.


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