IN THIS ARTICLE

    Writing tips

    A brief guide to capitalization rules

    Capitalization

     

    There are some capitalization rules that might seem like common sense, such as capitalizing the first word in a new sentence. 

    However, capitalization rules are more complex than they might seem on the surface. 

    In this post, we cover ten of the most common rules of capitalization. We’ll also share examples of each to help you understand when to use uppercase or lowercase in your writing.

    What are the 10 rules of capitalization?

    1. Capitalize the first word of a sentence

    This is one of the easiest, most straightforward rules of capitalization. Whenever you start a new sentence, capitalize the first letter of the first word. Simple as that!

    2. Capitalize proper nouns and names

    A proper noun is a specific name for a person, place, or thing. These types of nouns should always be capitalized, no matter where they land in a sentence. Proper nouns include but aren’t limited to: companies, countries, cities, political parties, and religions.

    Names should also be capitalized. That includes first, middle, and last names.

    3. Capitalize the majority of titles

    Capitalization rules for titles can vary from styleguide to styleguide. As a rule of thumb, you should capitalize the first word of a title, verbs, adjectives, nouns, and of course, proper nouns. This leaves prepositions, articles, and conjunctions in lowercase. 

     

    Pro Tip: You should also capitalize someone’s title – like Doctor or Judge – if you directly address them, even if you leave out their name. 

     

     

    4. Capitalize events and periods

    You will need to capitalize periods, eras, and specific events. However, centuries and century numbers should not be capitalized.

    5. Capitalize “I” as a pronoun

    We’re all used to seeing words like iPhone, iPad, and iMac by now. You don’t have to capitalize the “i” in these words. It would look strange if you did and wouldn’t be grammatically correct. However, if the “I” is a pronoun, then it should always be uppercase.

    6. Capitalize any locations and direct addresses 

    When a direction is part of a name, then you should capitalize it. For example, South Bend or Northern California. However, if it’s just a direction and not part of a name, then it shouldn’t be capitalized, like “turn east at the stop sign.”

    7. Capitalize family relationships

    When you use a word to indicate a family relationship, it should be capitalized if it’s used as a proper noun. For instance, “Grandpa” or “Uncle Bob.” However, if you aren’t referring to that person by name, then it wouldn’t need to be capitalized. For example, “my grandpa” or “our uncle.”

    8. Capitalize months, holidays, and days

    The names of months, holidays, and days are considered to be proper nouns. This means they need to be capitalized.

    Knowing this capitalization rule, a lot of people mistakenly capitalize the names of seasons. But seasons like winter and summer should NOT be capitalized. They are not categorized as proper nouns.

    9. Capitalize trademark names

    Trademark and brand names are typically seen as proper nouns. This means you’ll need to capitalize them.

    10. DON’T capitalize after a colon

    The final rule on our list is a little different. This one tells you when NOT to capitalize. In general, you shouldn’t capitalize the word following a colon. You aren’t starting a new sentence, so there’s no need for it.

    However, there is an exception to this rule. If the first word following a colon is a proper noun, then it needs to be capitalized.

    Capitalization rules and examples

    The best way to learn when to capitalize is by example. 

    Here’s are correct and incorrect ways to use capitalization for the rules above:

     

    Example #1. Capitalize the first word of a sentence

    Correct: This sentence is capitalized correctly. Incorrect: this sentence is not.

    In this example, the incorrect sentence should start with a capital letter.

     

    Example #2. Capitalize proper nouns and names

    Correct: He drives a Ford F-150 pickup truck. Incorrect: There are French Fries on the menu.

    Correct: We’re going to Yosemite National Park. Incorrect: We’re going to the Park.

    In both of the incorrect examples above, the capitalized noun should have been lowercase. This is because they are common nouns instead of proper nouns.

     

    Example #3. Capitalize the majority of titles

    Correct: Caleb went to the theater to watch The Year of Examples. Incorrect: I’m reading Sample Stories Of The Year.

    Articles, prepositions, and conjunctions shouldn’t be capitalized in titles.

     

    Example #4. Capitalize historical events and time periods

    Correct: He’s fascinated with the Middle Ages. Incorrect: He watched a documentary about the great depression.

     

    Example #5. Capitalize “I” as a pronoun

    Correct: Sierra and I have a class together at noon. Incorrect: She bought the latest IPhone.

    The “i” in the incorrect example is part of a trademark that begins with a lowercase letter. It’s not a pronoun. It shouldn’t be capitalized.

     

    Example #6. Capitalize any locations and direct addresses 

    Correct: The green car is parked on North Main Street in Chicago. Incorrect: The green car is parked on north main street in Chicago.

    Correct: It’s on the east end of the parking lot. Incorrect: It’s on the East End of the parking lot.

    Pro Tip: Directions that aren’t part of a name do not need to be capitalized.

     

    Example #7. Capitalize family relationships

    Correct: My grandma is meeting us at the zoo. Incorrect: Her Grandpa lives on ABC Street.

    Correct: Aunt Nell used to teach there. Incorrect: My aunt Sam owns that building.

     

    Example #8. Capitalize months, holidays, and days

    Correct: We had a party last July at the house. Incorrect: My favorite season is Winter.

    Seasons do not need to be capitalized.

     

    Example #9. Capitalize trademark names

    Correct: Shawn’s favorite bottled water is Water Brand. Incorrect: Tessa bought the sample brand lotion.

     

    Example #10. DON’T capitalize after a colon

    Correct: Liv’s favorite place to go on vacation: Florida Incorrect: Paulie has one hobby: Jumping jacks.

    Normally, you wouldn’t capitalize a word after a colon. However, if the first word is a proper noun, then you should.

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    In sum, the best way to remember the rules of capitalization is to keep writing. Practice and you’ll get the hang of it. You can always keep the rules on hand to refer back to as needed.