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Proper Capitalization Rules and Examples

Hedieh Najafi, Angela Janovsky
  • Author
    Hedieh Najafi

    Hedi Najafi earned her Ph.D. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from Arizona State University. She also has an M.A. and B.A. in English Language and Literature. In addition, she has several certificates and certifications such as Tesol Ontario, Laubach Literacy of Canada Tutor Certificate, and Financial Markets from Yale. In addition to teaching in North America, Dr. Hedi Najafi has taught in many institutions of higher education around the world. She has been teaching ESL, English, General Education, and Educational Leadership courses for the past twenty years.

  • Instructor
    Angela Janovsky

    Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Learn about capitalization rules and the importance of proper capitalization. See different capitalization examples, such as proper nouns, titles, and emphasis. Updated: 10/23/2021

Understanding Capitalization Rules

When writing in English, writers must follow certain rules. One important set of rules is the capitalization rules. Capitalizing a letter means to write it as an uppercase (capital) letter. Capitalizing a word means to write the first letter of that word as a capital (uppercase) letter while keeping the rest of the letters in lowercase. For example, to capitalize the word palace, one would write is as Palace.

What Is Capitalization?

There are many rules you must follow when writing in the English language. These rules generally fall under the category of grammar. One of the most important concepts in grammar deals with capitalization.

When you first learn the alphabet, you learn the lowercase form of each letter, as well as the capital form. Capitalization, then, is using the capital form of the first letter in a word, while all the other letters in the word remain lowercase. There are four main rules of capitalization you will learn in this lesson. First, let's discuss why capitalization is important.

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  • 0:39 Why Capitalize?
  • 1:29 Proper Nouns
  • 3:06 Titles
  • 3:59 First Word in a Sentence
  • 4:25 The Pronoun 'I'
  • 4:55 Lesson Summary
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Why Is Capitalization Important?

Writers and students often wonder about this question: Why is capitalization important?

Capitalization is important for several reasons. First, capitalization rules are part of the grammar and writing rules that writers must adhere to when writing in English. A piece of writing that is written following the proper rules is easier to read and understand. Second, writers capitalize certain words to show their importance or to signal a change in the words' meanings. Lastly, proper capitalization helps writing to become more effective and clearer.

Proper Capitalization Examples

The following sections detail proper capitalization, while answering this question: What does a writer capitalize?

Proper capitalization rules regarding proper nouns, titles, sentences, pronouns, acronyms, emphasis, and dialogues will be explained.

Proper Nouns

Are all proper nouns capitalized? The answer is yes. While common nouns are nouns that refer to generic persons, places, and things, proper nouns refer to specific persons, places, or things. For example, (a) man is a common noun, but James is a proper noun.

All proper nouns are to be capitalized, meaning the first letter of the proper noun must be written as a capital letter. If the proper noun consists of more than one word, then all the words of the proper noun must be capitalized. For example, Zora Neale Hurston is a proper noun made up of three words; therefore, Z, N, and H are all written as capital letters.

Below is a list showing examples of how to capitalize proper nouns.

Category Examples
Days of the week Saturday, Monday, Friday
Months of the year October, April, May
Holidays Halloween, Juneteenth, Independence Day
Names of people Sara, Latisha, Lloyd Smith
Names of places Apache Boulevard, Eiffel Tower, Caspian Sea
Titles used for people Ms., Mx., Dr.
Names of historical periods or entities Renaissance, Medieval Period, Persian Empire

Titles

All the titles of books, magazines, movies, plays, songs, essays, and articles must be capitalized. However, there are certain rules to be followed in this regard.

1.The first word of the title must be capitalized.

2.All the major words must be capitalized.

  • Major words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, and all words that are four or more letters (including prepositions and conjunctions).

3.All the minor words must be written in lowercase.

  • Minor words are conjunctions, prepositions, and articles.

Examples Explanations
Song of Solomon This is a book title. Song and Solomon are major words; hence, they are capitalized. Of is a short preposition; it is in lower case.
Of Mice and Men This is an example of a movie title. Mice and Men are major words; although they are short, they are capitalized because they are nouns. And is a short conjunction in lowercase. Of is the first word of the title; therefore, it is capitalized.
Mathematical Modeling of the Adaptive Immune Responses in the Early Stage of the HBV Infection This example shows the title of a scientific article. All the words are capitalized except for the prepositions of and in and the article, the.
The Creator Has a Master Plan This example depicts the title of a song. All the words are major words except the article, a. So, all the words are capitalized except for the article, a.

An example of a book title with correct capitalization.

Capitalization rules

First Word in a Sentence

The first word of a sentence must always be capitalized regardless of the word's length or part of speech. A period at the end of a sentence marks the end of one thought, and the capital letter in the beginning of a new sentence marks the beginning of a new thought. This is why it is important to start a new sentence with a capital letter.

Example Explanations
Arizona is located in the Southwestern part of the United States. It is the sixth largest state and the fourteenth most populous state in the country. Phoenix is its capital city. This state is home to one of the largest universities in the U.S., Arizona State University. This example has four sentences. Each sentence starts with a capitalized word. The capitalized words marking the beginning of each sentence are: Arizona, It, Phoenix, and This.

The Pronoun "I"

The pronoun I is the only pronoun that must be capitalized under any and all circumstances.

Why Capitalize?

All the rules in standard grammar serve some sort of purpose that always relates to conveying a clear meaning. Capitalization's purpose is to help show the reader the importance of different words. For example, let's look at how capitalization can show importance with some nouns. Remember, a noun is a person, place or thing.

Look at these two phrases: 'The White House' and 'the white house.' Because the first phrase is capitalized, you as the reader know it is more important. Capitalized, it refers to the house the President of the United States lives in; lowercase, it refers to any house that is white. In this example, you can see how capitalization shows the reader the clear meaning of the words. Now that you know what capitalization is and its purpose, let's look at the rules for capitalization.

Proper Nouns

The first rule requires you to capitalize all proper nouns. Proper nouns are nouns that represent a specific person, place or thing. The opposite is a common noun, which includes all words for the general name of the person, place or thing.

For example, look at this sentence: 'I plan on going to a university.' The word 'university' is a common noun. University does not refer to any specific school, just any higher learning facility. On the other hand, look at this sentence: 'I plan on going to Harvard University.' Now university is a proper noun, since it points to a specific school.

'The White House' example we looked at earlier also follows this rule. When you capitalize this phrase, you are referring to the specific house the president lives in, not any house painted white. Some other proper nouns include political divisions, such as states and countries, or historical movements. Names of these words are considered proper nouns. Examples of historical movements include the Reformation or Renaissance because each is a significant period in history.

In addition, when a common noun is made into a proper noun, note that all parts of the name are capitalized. In the 'Harvard University' example, 'Harvard' is not the only word capitalized; 'university' is as well, since it is now a part of the name of that specific school. This rule can also be seen every day on the roads you travel to and from school or work. 'Main Street,' 'Pennsylvania Avenue' or 'Route 182' all have capitalized common nouns because they are now part of the name of the proper noun.

Titles

Beyond proper nouns, the second rule for capitalization involves titles. All titles of songs, books, magazines, movies, etc. need to be capitalized. In these titles, you must be sure to only capitalize the main nouns and not the smaller words. For example, look at the title of the book The Cat in the Hat. The words 'cat' and 'hat' are the main nouns in the title and so are capitalized, but the smaller words 'in' and 'the' are not.

Note that the first word is also 'the;' why is it capitalized while the second one is not? The first word of every title is always capitalized no matter if it is a main noun or not. Here is another example in the title of the novel A Tale of Two Cities. The word 'of' is not capitalized, but 'a' is because it is the first word in the title.

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Video Transcript

What Is Capitalization?

There are many rules you must follow when writing in the English language. These rules generally fall under the category of grammar. One of the most important concepts in grammar deals with capitalization.

When you first learn the alphabet, you learn the lowercase form of each letter, as well as the capital form. Capitalization, then, is using the capital form of the first letter in a word, while all the other letters in the word remain lowercase. There are four main rules of capitalization you will learn in this lesson. First, let's discuss why capitalization is important.

Why Capitalize?

All the rules in standard grammar serve some sort of purpose that always relates to conveying a clear meaning. Capitalization's purpose is to help show the reader the importance of different words. For example, let's look at how capitalization can show importance with some nouns. Remember, a noun is a person, place or thing.

Look at these two phrases: 'The White House' and 'the white house.' Because the first phrase is capitalized, you as the reader know it is more important. Capitalized, it refers to the house the President of the United States lives in; lowercase, it refers to any house that is white. In this example, you can see how capitalization shows the reader the clear meaning of the words. Now that you know what capitalization is and its purpose, let's look at the rules for capitalization.

Proper Nouns

The first rule requires you to capitalize all proper nouns. Proper nouns are nouns that represent a specific person, place or thing. The opposite is a common noun, which includes all words for the general name of the person, place or thing.

For example, look at this sentence: 'I plan on going to a university.' The word 'university' is a common noun. University does not refer to any specific school, just any higher learning facility. On the other hand, look at this sentence: 'I plan on going to Harvard University.' Now university is a proper noun, since it points to a specific school.

'The White House' example we looked at earlier also follows this rule. When you capitalize this phrase, you are referring to the specific house the president lives in, not any house painted white. Some other proper nouns include political divisions, such as states and countries, or historical movements. Names of these words are considered proper nouns. Examples of historical movements include the Reformation or Renaissance because each is a significant period in history.

In addition, when a common noun is made into a proper noun, note that all parts of the name are capitalized. In the 'Harvard University' example, 'Harvard' is not the only word capitalized; 'university' is as well, since it is now a part of the name of that specific school. This rule can also be seen every day on the roads you travel to and from school or work. 'Main Street,' 'Pennsylvania Avenue' or 'Route 182' all have capitalized common nouns because they are now part of the name of the proper noun.

Titles

Beyond proper nouns, the second rule for capitalization involves titles. All titles of songs, books, magazines, movies, etc. need to be capitalized. In these titles, you must be sure to only capitalize the main nouns and not the smaller words. For example, look at the title of the book The Cat in the Hat. The words 'cat' and 'hat' are the main nouns in the title and so are capitalized, but the smaller words 'in' and 'the' are not.

Note that the first word is also 'the;' why is it capitalized while the second one is not? The first word of every title is always capitalized no matter if it is a main noun or not. Here is another example in the title of the novel A Tale of Two Cities. The word 'of' is not capitalized, but 'a' is because it is the first word in the title.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What words should be capitalized?

There are different rules regarding capitalization. Some are as follows: The first word of a sentence, all the major words in a title, and the pronoun "I" must be capitalized. All the letters in an acronym must be capitalized, too.

What should you not capitalize?

Seasons should not be capitalized. All pronouns except for the pronoun "I" should not be capitalized. The minor words, such as articles and prepositions, must not be capitalized.

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