Yesterday, I wrote an article on technical writing. Today, I’m laying out a few basic rules with regards to when to capitalize things. This is pretty straight forward but I find it can help to remember the rules to lay them out in a basic way. These things should have their first character capitalized:
- The first letter of a sentence. This includes a quoted sentence inside a sentence but not a phrase within a sentence. This also includes the first letter of a terminal command when a sentence starts with a command, although I try to restructure those sentences when they come up as it’s not a hard thing to do.
- The letter I.
- Titles. Each letter in the title of books, movies, poems, songs, articles, newspaper/magazine articles and works of art should be capitalized. This includes when these objects start with a word such as Of, A, The, And, etc but not when those words are in the middle of a title. Titles can also include specific course titles (such as when there’s a number attached). When using a compound title each otherwise capitalized word should be capitalized and each word not otherwise capitalized should not be.
- The names of people. Each word in a persons name should always be capitalized. Also their honorary titles/high ranking officials when preceding a name, such as President, Doctor, etc as well as an abbreviated title, such as Mr and Mrs. However, when those titles are used without a specific person attached they don’t need capitalization (although keep in mind if addressing someone with their title that should be capitalized). Titles that occur after a name do not require capitalization. Additionally the name of a relative when used as a proper noun should be capitalized.
- Gods, religious figures and holy works should be capitalized, although when describing a group of gods you need only capitalize the region or name of the pantheon and not the non-specific use of the word gods.
- The names of schools. This includes any educational institution, not just a college and university. Also, the name of a degree.
- Places. This includes bodies of water. A River, Lake, etc. As with the names of people, if you don’t put the name of the specific lake, but use the word you don’t need to capitalize that. A place can also be a mountain or building. Specific buildings, monuments, mountains, hills, volcanoes, etc. should have their first letters capitalized. Specific street names also have the first letter of each word capitalized. Also note that planets always start with the first letter capitalized.
- Specific flags.
- Regions. When discussing the Midwest, Sun Belt or South as a noun those should be capitalized. However, when using those words as an adjective they don’t need to be. A country, county, city or other region should also have the first character capitalized. I’ve always felt though, that the region unless a specific place, should have to earn the capitalization and it’s worth noting that Big 10/midwestern football just isn’t what it used to be… Also note that you should capitalize directions that are names but not directions when referring to a compass heading. Capitalize countries, languages and nationalities.
- Times. Days of the week, months and holidays. Seasons when used in a title, but not when used generally.
- Periods and events, except century numbers that are spelled out.
- Trademarked names. One thing I try to avoid here is using a trademarked name in writing as a verb, even if that word has become commonplace. For example, while you frequently hear people say to Xerox something I would change that to make a copy of something.
- Groups and organized bodies. Athletic, civic, national, political, and racial groups should be capitalized. This includes the name of a court and some other government terms, including Administration when describing a presidents administration, Cabinet when describing that of a president or prime minister and Federal when referring to the government of a country.
- Lists. If the first word of any bullet or item in a numbered list is capitalized then all should be, including directions. If two or more sentences follow a colon (not one sentence) then the first word of each should be capitalized; however, if there are items after a colon that are not sentences they do not require capitalization unless another rule requires it.
- The first word of salutations and complementary closings.
- Words derived from proper nouns.
- Initials, initialisms, initials with names and acronyms (unless in commands where the acronym is the command as you’re actually writing the name of the command). Acronyms include the call letters of television and radio stations.
- Any character in text that you quote should be capitalized exactly as it appears (although if all words begin with a capitalized character then you don’t need to quote the string).
- The first word of each line of poetry, unless not quoted in the poem.
- When shouting using the written word one can capitalize each letter of the word to add inflection; however, this is not necessarily proper nor a rule, simply commonplace.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that writing such as this is a blog. While I don’t like that word, I find that such writing typically frequently allows the writer a certain amount of flexibility with regards to grammatical rules (for better or worse). This could be due to the fact that much of what’s written is done in the middle of the night. While this isn’t an excuse to use poor grammar it does tend to mean a less stringent editorial process over the grammar used. In other words, read/use the content at your own risk.
Note: At the request of my readers I’d be happy to write a follow-up article on when to capitalize assets, but I might have to bust out some of my books from Accounting 101 in college to do so!