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 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):
- People: Hank, Aaron, Joan Rivers
- Places: Cincinnati, Yosemite
- Things: Bendix Corporation, Harvard University
Notice that words derived from proper nouns are also proper adjectives:
|Proper Noun||Proper Adjective|
|New York||New Yorker|
Let’s look at some specific uses of capital letters based on these principles!
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:
V. Family relationships:
Capitalize the names of family relationships when the relative is named:
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.
Capitalize names of proper places like cities, states, and specific geographical areas:
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.
VIII. Religions and organizations:
Capitalize the names of religions and professional organizations:
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
World War II
XI. Days, months, holidays:
Capitalize the names of days, months, and holidays, but not seasons.
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
- - Use capitals to signal the beginning of sentences and direct quotations that are complete sentences on their own.
- - Use capitals to identify proper nouns.
- - Use capitals in titles.