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Microlab 2 | Reading Writing Center


Microlab 2-Capitalization

Capital letters occur so often in writing that writers hardly give them a second thought. However, when necessary capitals are missing, we immediately notice their absence. Can you imagine a history book, for example, discussing “ancient turkey?” Knowing when to use capital letters is an important part of making meaning clear.

This microlab will help you:

  1. Understand and use capitals correctly in your own writing

Review of Capitalization

Capital letters serve two general purposes:

I. The start of a sentence:

Capitals signal the beginning of sentences and direct quotations, if those quotations are complete sentences themselves:

Keeping her temper, she muttered, “That’s great that you’re dating my ex-boyfriend.”

II. Proper nouns:

Capitals identify proper nouns (nouns naming specific people, places, and things):

  1. People: Hank, Aaron, Joan Rivers
  2. Places: Cincinnati, Yosemite
  3. Things: Bendix Corporation, Harvard University

Notice that words derived from proper nouns are also proper adjectives:

Proper Noun		Proper Adjective
Iowa			Iowan	
Shakespeare		Shakespearean
New York		New Yorker

Let’s look at some specific uses of capital letters based on these principles!

III. “I”:

Capital letters are used for the pronoun “I” and its contractions:

I	I’ll 	I’d 	I’m 	I’ve

IV. Names, initials, and titles:

Capitalize names, initials, and titles preceding names:

Bob Carter		Doctor
Gov. Sill		Professor Stein
Ms. Lile		Judge Holme

V. Family relationships:

Capitalize the names of family relationships when the relative is named:

Uncle Abe 		Grandfather Niles

The family relationship is not capitalized when preceded by a possessive pronoun (my, our, your, her, his, their).

My uncle, Abe, visited last week. 
Her grandfather arrives tomorrow. 

VI. Places:

Capitalize names of proper places like cities, states, and specific geographical areas:

Lake Huron		Boston
Kentucky		the South
Times Square		Yuma

Notice that words like “lake” and “street” are not capitalized when they do not name a specific place, nor are the general directions (north, south, east, west, etc.):

We decided to hike south to the lake. 
The street we live on is very close to the elementary school. 
South America is south of North America.

VII. Groups and languages:

Capitalize the names of nations, nationalities, ethnic groups, and languages.

England 	English
America 	Americans
Indians 	Chicanos

VIII. Religions and organizations:

Capitalize the names of religions and professional organizations:

Hinduism		Rotary Club
Catholicism		United Nations
Lutheran		Optimists Club

IX. Official names of transports:

Capitalize the names of ships, planes, and spacecrafts:

Queen Elizabeth II
Concord
Columbia

X. Historical events:

Capitalize the names of historical periods and events:

the Great Depression
the Renaissance
World War II

XI. Days, months, holidays:

Capitalize the names of days, months, and holidays, but not seasons.

Thursday	August		Christmas
winter		summer		spring

XII. Title case:

Capitalize the first, last, and all major words in titles of books, plays, poems, musical compositions, films, and other works of art and literature (this is called “title case”):

Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms
Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman
Byron’s Don Juan
Aaron Copeland’s Appalachian Spring
Woody Allen’s Manhattan

A Handy Reminder

Use capital letters only when there is specific reason to do so; otherwise, use a lower-case letter. Some beginning writers try to achieve special emphasis by capitalizing words that do not require capitals. Avoid this mistake.

Key Points to Remember

  1. Use capitals to signal the beginning of sentences and direct quotations that are complete sentences on their own.
  2. Use capitals to identify proper nouns.
  3. Use capitals in titles.