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

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.