15 Basic Capitalization Rules for English Grammar

Although the rules of English capitalization seem simple at first glance, it might still be complicated in academic writing. You probably know you should capitalize proper nouns and the first word of every sentence. However, in some cases, capitalization is required for the first word in a quotation and the first word after a colon. In this article, you will find 15 basic capitalization rules for English grammer.

29.11.2020

15 Basic Capitalization Rules for English Grammar

This blog discusses 15 basic capitalization rules for English grammar. To give you an opportunity to practice your proofreading, we have left a few spelling, punctuation, or grammatical errors in the text. See if you can spot them! If you spot the errors correctly, you will be entitled to a 10% discount. 

Capitalization means writing a word with its first letter in uppercase while the remaining letters in lowercase. As a general rule, in English, a capital letter is used for the first word of a sentence and for all proper nouns. Although the rules of English capitalization seem simple at first glance, it might still be complicated in academic writing. You probably know you should capitalize proper nouns and the first word of every sentence. However, in some cases, capitalization is required for the first word in a quotation and the first word after a colon. Here are the details:

1. Capitalize the First Word of A Sentence

This rule is the most basic one. Always capitalize the first word of your sentence, whether it is a proper or common name.

  • The baby is crawling.

  • Where to find my book?

  • I ordered a new laptop online.

2. Capitalize All Proper Names in A Sentence

A proper noun is the specific name of a person, place, object, or organization to make it more specific such as Alice, Chicago, Tuesday. The first letter of a person’s first, middle, and last names should also be capitalized (John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Thomas Alva Edison). All proper nouns -even adjectives derived from a proper noun- should be written with capital letters regardless of where they appear in a sentence.

  • I ordered an Apple computer from BestBuy.

  • George Washington was an American political leader who served as the first president of the United States.

The names of cities, towns, countries, counties, companies, religions, and political parties are also considered proper nouns and should be written with capital letters.

  • Universal Orlando Resort, commonly known as Universal Orlando or simply ‘’Universal,’’ is a theme park based in OrlandoFlorida.

Common nouns refer to a general, non-specific category or entity that name any person, place, object, or idea. They are not capitalized unless they come at the beginning of a sentence or a part of the title.

You should also capitalize words like mom, dad, grandma, and grandpa when you use them as a form of address.

3. How to Capitalize Titles of People

As discussed above, you should capitalize the first letter of a person’s first, middle, and last names (Thomas Alva Edison, John Fitzgerald Kennedy). However, you also need to capitalize suffixes (i.e., Sir Isac Newton., Alexander the Great, Alfred the Great) and titles.

When titles such as Mr., Mrs., or Dr. are considered a part of their name, they should be capitalized too. This rule is followed in a situation in which you address a person by his or her position as though it is a part of their name.

Capitalize

Do Not Capitalize

I completed the report on President George Washington.

George Washington was an American political leader who served as the first president of the United States.

When I started at Apple, I worked as an intern with Senior Vice President Luca Maestri for one month.

Luca Maestri is one of the senior vice presidents of the company. 

a. Do not capitalize occupations and titles when they are not used as part of a name.

  • The journal’s chief editor

  • He was a libertarian senator. 

b. Do not capitalize titles when used descriptively.

  • Dr. Lawrence, who will chair the meeting, will be here soon.

b. Titles immediately following the name do not ordinarily require capitalization. 

  • Dr. Lawrence, the chairperson, will join us at the meeting.

c. When the article ‘‘the’’ appears in front of the job title, do not capitalize.

  • Lawrence, the chairperson, will be here soon.

  • The chairperson, Dr. Lawrence, will join us at the meeting.

  • Goodman was the managing editor of the journal. 

d. Capitalize titles in signature lines.

Although there is no universal rule on writing titles in the complimentary closing of a letter, our editors recommend capitalizing a titles when they follow the name on the address or signature line. However, you can leave it in lowercase as titles are generally not capitalized when following a name in text. Both ways are acceptable. So, choose a method and be consistent.

  • Mike Lawrence, Chairperson

  • John Goodman, Managing Editor 

Capitalization Rules for English Grammar

4. Capitalize Common Nouns When They Are Used to Name A Specific Entity

Common nouns are considered proper nouns when they are used to name a specific entity.

Common noun

Proper noun

The President will speak to the nation this weekend.

The action has not been approved by the United Nations.

He was a libertarian.

His nomination was forced upon the Libertarian Party.

It is a Gothic cathedral dating from the 15th century.

Florence Cathedral is considered the most beautiful building in the city.

5. Capitalization After Colons

In most cases, you do not have to capitalize a word after a colon. In British English, the first letter after a colon is capitalized only if it’s a proper noun or an acronym. However, the first word after a colon is sometimes capitalized in American English if it begins a complete sentence.

a. List of things or a phrase

When a colon introduces a list of things or a phrase that is not a complete sentence, do not capitalize the first word after the colon unless it is a proper noun or a common noun that is used to name a specific entity.

b. Complete sentence (check your style guide)

When a colon introduces a complete sentence, you need to check your style guide to see whether you capitalize the first word after the colon.

According to the APA Publication Manual, for instance, the first word after the colon is capitalized only if it begins a complete sentence. In APA style, if the clause following the colon is a complete sentence, it begins with a capital letter.

They have agreed on the outcome: informed participants perform better than do uninformed participants.

Incorrect

They have agreed on the outcome: Informed participants perform better than do uninformed participants.

Correct

However, The Chicago Manual of Style has a different perspective on it. It requires to capitalize the first word following the colon if there is more than one complete explanatory sentence following the colon.

John prefers wearing a brimmed cap: Strong light often triggers his migraine.

Incorrect

John prefers wearing a brimmed cap: strong light often triggers his migraine.

Correct

John prefers wearing a brimmed cap: strong light often triggers his migraine. He also thinks it is fashionable.

Incorrect

John prefers wearing a brimmed cap: Strong light often triggers his migraine. He also thinks it is fashionable.

Correct

c. The other basic rule of APA Style is to capitalize the first word after the colon in a title.

The Impact of Job-Related Stress on Burnout: a Florida Case Study

Incorrect

The Impact of Job-Related Stress on Burnout: A Florida Case Study

Correct

d. Never capitalize a word after a colon when introducing a list:

The variables of the study are as follows: Burnout, job-related stress, and health-related quality of life.

Incorrect

The variables of the study are as follows: burnout, job-related stress, and health-related quality of life.

Correct

6. Capitalization of the First Word of Quotations

When the quote is a complete sentence, you should capitalize the first word of the quote.

  • James said, “The motorcycle slid sideways and skidded approximately 50 meters.” 

Do not capitalize the first word of partial quotes.

  • “The motorcycle slid sideways,” James said, “and skidded approximately 50 meters.’’ 

7. Capitalize Days, Months, Holidays

The names of days, months, festivals, and holidays are considered proper nouns and, therefore, should be capitalized.

  • Tuesday was more productive than Monday.

  • I love the Fourth of July.

  • Put that on your Christmas wish list.

  • Do you have any plans for Valentine’s Day?

  • Her death took place about the end of Ramadan

8. Capitalize Time Periods and Events 

Specific time periods, eras, and historical events are considered proper names and thus need to be capitalized.

  • The Reformation is considered one of the major movements within Western Christianity in 16th-century Europe.

  • History is commonly divided into three separate periods: the Ancient Period, the Middle Ages, and the Modern Time.

  • World War I was once called the Great War.

  • The American Revolution took many ideas from the early civilizations of Greece and Rome. 

Capitalization Rules for English Grammar

9. Do Not Capitalize Centuries

Centuries—and the numbers before them—should not be capitalized.

  • During the eighteenth century, slave trading and human trafficking expanded on a global scale.

10. Do Not Capitalize Seasons

However, the name of the four seasons are not proper nouns, so should not be capitalized unless they appear as part of a proper noun.

  • The night is the winter, the morning and evening are the spring and fall, and noon is the summer.

  • I live near Winter Park.

  • The Italian city of Turin hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics.

11. Capitalize Countries, Cities, Nationalities, and Languages

The names of countries, cities, nationalities, and languages are considered proper nouns, and they should be capitalized.

  • My father is Irish, and my mother is British.

  • I am studying French and German and Latin and Greek.

  • On their refusal, the Russians attacked them at midnight.

  • Few cities in Europe can match the cultural richness of Berlin

12. Capitalize the Most Words in Headings and Titles

In general, you need to capitalize all major words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, and all proper nouns) in titles and headings. That means articles, conjunctions, and prepositions should not be capitalized. However, the capitalization rules for the titles and headings sometimes differ according to style guides.

For instance, APA Style has two types of capitalization for titles: Title case and sentence case. In title case, APA Style requires all major words to be capitalized, and most minor words should be in lowercase. However, in sentence case, most major and minor words are lowercase unless they are proper nouns. According to APA Style, nouns, verbs (including linking verbs), adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and all words of four letters or more are considered major words; while short (i.e., three letters or fewer) conjunctions, short prepositions, and all articles are considered minor words (APA 6th edition).

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the seventh and final novel in the series. 

13. Capitalization of Directions and Regions

Capitalize north, south, east, and west (including derivative words) when they refer to a direction or general area or when they designate definite regions or are an integral part of a proper name.

  • I live in the south of France.

  • First, go north on I-94 and then east.

  • The main parts of the southern region of the country were not affected by the ongoing drought. 

However, capitalization is required when these words are part of a proper name or refer to a specific region.

  • Record temperatures continued to bake the Midwestern and Southern states. 

  • Winds are expected to become northerly later today.

  • The South Pole is claimed by seven nations.

  • He’s from the Far East, not from the Middle East.

  • Western Christianity has played a prominent role in the shaping of Western civilization.

Also, you need to capitalize well-known region names such as East Coast, West Coast, and Southern California. However, a geographical area considered a distinct region might vary by country.

  • The East Coast of the United States is also known as the Eastern Seaboard.

  • The West Coast is the coastline along which the continental Western United States meets the North Pacific Ocean. 

14. Theories, Laws, Models, and Disciplines

In general, there is no need to capitalize the names of laws, theories, models, disciplines, statistical procedures, or hypotheses as they can be understood to serve more as common nouns as opposed to proper nouns. Note that proper nouns within these terms are capitalized.

Scientific theories and models

rational choice theory, social constructionist theory, germ theory of disease, Newton's law of gravitation, problem solving model, crisis intervention model

Scales and inventories

Maslach Burnout Inventory, Transformational Leadership Scale

Laws and schools of though

Maslow’s law of hierarchy, behaviorism, the German historical school, French liberal school

Disciplines and subjects

economics, Mathematics, English, anthropology, chemistry

 Keep in mind that the names of inventories, questionnaires, or tests should be capitalized.

  • Maslach Burnout Inventory

  • Transformational Leadership Scale

15. Closing a Letter with A Valediction

When we sign off on letters or send emails, we generally close them with valediction such as "Regards", "Best", "Best wishes", "Best regards", "Sincerely", or "Cordially yours." The first word in these farewell words or complimentary closes should be capitalized, just like the beginning of a sentence.

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