Capitalization

English has specific rules for capitalization.

1. Capitalize the first word of every sentence.

The dog was running down the street.

Note: When quoting from a source, you should integrate the words into your sentence in a way that makes sense, but you must maintain the original capitalization or indicate that you have changed it using brackets.

“Several studies replicated our results,” claimed the researchers.

The researchers claimed that “[s]everal studies replicated our results.”

2. Capitalize proper nounds, proper adjectives, and words essential to the meaning of proper nounds, including specific people or things; specific places or geopgrahical regions; historical events, documents, periods, or movements; days of the week, months, and holidays; government officies, departments, and institutions; academic institutions, departments, and course; races, nationalities, adn their languages; religions, followers, sacred terms; and political, social, athletic, and other organizations/associations and members.

I enrolled in Psychology 101 with Professor Todd.

Note: Capitalize directions only when they refer to a geographic location, not a compass orientation.

Head north on US 19 to reach Northern Florida.

Note: Capitalize relationships only when they are part of the proper name.

My brother went fishing with Uncle John while my aunt stayed home with Cousin Amy.

Note: Capitalize titles when they are before the person’s name, but not after.

I visited Dr. Betancourt before I met Otto van Isling, a doctor, for lunch.

3. Capitalize the words intitles and subttiles except for articles (a, an, the), to infinitives, coordinating conjunctions for, and, nor, but, or, yet, I), and prepositions. But capitalize these words if they are the first or last word of the title or are the first or last word of the titleor are the first word after a colon.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

Note: The style guides specific to academic disciplines also have guidelines for capitalization that may vary (MLA, APA, CSE, etc.). Consult your style guide for more specific guidance.

4. Capitalize acronyms when it will help your audie4nce understand what you mean.

The first SCUBA training class was on Thursday. (This assumes that the audience may not be familiar with the acronym SCUBA–Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus– and uses capitals to draw attention to the word.)

An experienced diver, James didn’t panic when his scuba equipment failed underwater. (This sentence assumes that the audience, along with James, is familiar with this word, so it doesn’t use capitals for emphasis.)

What are the guidelines for capitalization when writing online?

Online communities have traditionally viewed typing that is in all capital letters (the dreaded ALL CAPS) as shouting or yelling at the reader. Though this may be appropriate for some forums, do consider your audience and decide if such a stylistic choice is appropriate. English offers other options for emphasis, like italicizing or underlining, that are more academic and formal than the informal use of all capital letters.

Why is it important to follow capitalization rules?

Following capitalization rules helps to maintain order in written text and makes it easier to distinguish one word from another. When capitalization rules are followed carefully, this adherence to the accepted conventions of the English language strengthens the writer’s credibility.

What words should be capitalized?

  • the first person personal pronoun I
  • the first word of a sentence or a line of poetry
  • proper nouns and proper adjectives
  • titles of people (Mr., Mrs., Dr., President)
  • the first, last, and other important words in titles
  • the first word of a direct quotation
  • abbreviations for organizations
    • Note: Write out the full name of the organization the first time it is mentioned in your paper, followed by the abbreviation in parentheses. After that, only the abbreviation may be used. For example, write out Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the first time it appears, and then use EPA in subsequent references to the organization.
  • compass directions that indicate a specific region (e.g., the Northwest)

What words should not be capitalized?

  • common nouns
  • articles (a, an, the), prepositions (e.g., of, on, with), and conjunctions (e.g., and, but, for) in a title, unless they appear as the first or last word
  • the names of the seasons
  • compass directions (north, south, east, west) that do not indicate a specific region

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