Spanish Capitalization Rules

Instructor: Yolanda Reinoso Barzallo

Yolanda holds a CELTA Cambridge, a Juris Doctorate, and a Master of Public Administration. She is a published author of fiction in Spanish.

The use of capital letters varies from language to language, and Spanish is no exception. This lesson gives you an overview of these rules, so your writing will be impeccable.

Presentation Matters

Let's take a look at this excerpt from a letter:

'dear john, since june is coming up, it is time i ask what you would like for your Birthday!'

Needless to say, your eyes hurt because capitalization rules do not exist for this writer.

These rules exist in Spanish, though, and the appropriate placement of capital letters is very important.

All Spanish- speaking countries follow the same rules for the use of capital letters. There is an official entity that issues a dictionary and publishes universal rules of grammar. This entity is the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy). We consider its rules to be the benchmark for writing and grammar standards. We will explore each use of capital letters, so you can approach your writing with confidence.

Punctuation and Capitalization

As it happens with other languages, punctuation determines when to use a capital letter. Let's take a look at this table for the Spanish rules. Don't worry if the punctuation is incorrect in English. Remember, the two languages are different, and the translation in the table is just to illustrate the use of capital letters in Spanish:

Capital after: Example Translation Exception
a period Yo cocino hoy. Tú cocinas mañana. 'I cook today. You cook tomorrow.' None
an ellipsis Tengo mucho trabajo... Estoy ocupado. 'I have a lot of work... I am busy.' When the statement after the ellipsis is not independent from the previous comment. e.g. Tengo mucho trabajo y... no puedo terminarlo hoy. ('I have a lot of work and... Cannot finish it today.'). Note the space after the ellipsis!
a colon in the first line of a letter Querido Juan: Deseándote un buen viaje. 'Dear Juan: Wishing you a great trip.' None
a colon in official documents that announce a decision El Congreso aprueba: El permiso de salida. 'Congress approves: Permission to leave.' None
a colon to then quote someone Pedro dijo: El nivel académico es alto. Pedro said: 'The academic level is high.' None
a question mark ¿Dónde vives? 'Where do you live?' If two or more questions can be separated with a comma. e.g. ¿Dónde vives?, ¿con quién? ('Where do you live?, with whom?')
a closing question mark if a new statement follows '¿Dónde vives? Dijiste Miami la vez anterior. 'Where do you live? You said Miami the last time.' When the statement that follows cannot be independent from the question. e.g. '¿Dónde vives?, le pregunté a Carlos. ('Where do you live? I asked Carlos.')

Proper Names

This is as easy as it is universal. The name of a person, place, or thing requires a capital letter if it is a proper name, and it does not matter where in the sentence it appears. Let's take a look at a couple of examples:

  • María es tan inteligente como Ana. ('María is as intelligent as Ana')
  • Trabajo en la Corte de Justicia de Bogotá. ('I work at the Court of Justice of Bogotá.')
  • Mi gato, Tigre, es independiente. ('My cat, Tigre, is independent.')

Now, let's look at this table for names that require a capital letter:

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