In English, there are a few rules for capitalization. Most of these rules are simple and straightforward, but they can be confusing for new writers. In this post, we’ll go over the basics of English capitalization rules, including when to capitalize proper nouns and when to use lowercase letters. We’ll also discuss some exceptions to these rules. Understanding these rules will take your writing to the next level.
20 Capitalization Rules
Knowing when to capitalize a word and when to leave it lowercase can be tricky because there are many different rules about when to use capital letters. You cannot form a complete sentence without proper capitalization.
Here are brief explanations of 20 general capitalization rules to help you figure out when you need a capital letter.
1) First word of a sentence
You should always capitalize the first word of a sentence (independent clause). Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule, such as when a sentence starts with a coordinating conjunction or when you’re using quotation marks. But for the most part, if you just remember to capitalize only the first word of every sentence.
It does not matter if you are writing only one sentence or multiple sentences, always capitalize the first word. Even if it is a sentence fragment. This rule is consistent with the AP Style guide.
2) First word following a colon if the second phrase is a complete sentence
A colon introduces and connects the ideas in two or more sentences. Writers often avoid using this punctuation mark because they are unsure of the capitalization rules.
According to the rules, you should only capitalize the first word following a colon if the second phrase is a complete sentence (Chicago Manual of Style). So, in other words, if what comes after the colon could stand on its own as a sentence, then it should be capitalized.
However, if it’s something like a list or a fragment, then there’s no need to capitalize.
3) First word in each line of most poetry
According to English language capitalization rules, the first word in each line of most poetry should be capitalized. This rule is designed to help ensure that readers can easily identify the start of each new line.
4) First word in a quotation
Always capitalize the first word in a quotation. This rule seems simple enough, but there are plenty of people who still don’t follow it. As a result, they end up with sentences that look like this: “the cat slept through the storm.”
Not only is this incorrect, but it also makes your writing look sloppy.
5) The Pronoun “I”
The personal pronoun “I” is always capitalized in English, no matter where it appears in a sentence. This is because “I” is a proper noun, and all proper nouns are capitalized.
Example: “I went to the store.”
6) Proper nouns
Proper nouns are tricky, because it can be difficult to tell when a noun is actually proper. Here are some rules about specific types of proper nouns:
- Names – First and last names are always capitalized: Billy Walker, Susan Myers
- Relationships – Terms for relationships are only capitalized if they are used as part of someone’s name: “Aunt Alice called me,” versus “My aunt, Alice, called me.”
- Titles – Much like relationships, titles are only capitalized if they are used as part of a name: “Coach Wilson was right,” versus “The coach was right.”
7) Prefixes and Suffixes
Prefixes and suffixes added to titles are not capitalized: “ex-Governor Johnson”
8) Direct address
Words used for relationships and titles that would normally be lowercased are capitalized when they are used to directly address someone: “But I want to play, Coach,” versus “The coach told me I couldn’t play.”
- Places – The proper names of places are always capitalized, such as New York City or France. If words like “city” are not used as part of the title, they are not capitalized: the city of New York.
- Geographical Formations – You would not normally capitalize geographical formations, but when they are part of the title of a specific formation you do: “the mountains” versus “Rocky Mountains;” “the ocean” versus “the Atlantic Ocean”
- Streets – The word “street” is not normally capitalized, but it is when it is part of the name of a street: “the street” versus “Baker Street”
9) Specific deities
Don’t capitalize the word “god” or “gods” when they don’t refer to specific deities. Do capitalize the names of deities from any belief system, or the term “God” in reference to the deity of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. For example, “Zeus is a Greek god.” “God helped the Israelites escape from Egypt.”
Days of the week, months, and years are capitalized: Wednesday, July.
You should capitalize the names of specific holidays. This includes holidays such as Christmas, Easter, and Halloween.
12) Seasons as titles
The rules around season capitalization are actually quite simple. Season names should only be capitalized when they’re being used as specific names. For example, “I can’t wait for spring break!” In this sentence, “spring” is being used to refer to a specific season, so it’s capitalized.
However, if you were simply talking about the temperature getting warmer, you wouldn’t need to capitalize the word “spring.” Pay close attention to capitalization rules when writing your titles.
13) Countries, nationalities, and specific languages
Countries, nationalities, and specific languages are always capitalized in English. This rule seems simple enough, but it can often trip up writers who are unfamiliar with the language.
For example, it is incorrect to write “I’m from Germany” or ” English is my first language.”
The correct way to write these phrases would be “I’m from Germany” and “English is my first language.”
14) Periods and Events
The names of periods and events are always capitalized when use specifically.
You need to capitalize the names of historical periods, like the Stone Age, or the Renaissance. But you also need to capitalize big events, like World War II.
Specific names of groups like the National Honor Society should always be capitalized. Other specific names including organizations and places like the White House should also be capitalized. However, generic names for groups like “government” don’t need to be capitalized.
The trademarked names of companies and products are always capitalized, such as Coca-Cola or Apple. If a product or company is self-styled with a lowercased first letter, you do not capitalize it: iPhone, eBay. Some scholars do suggest capitalizing these forms if they are used at the beginning of a sentence: “iPhones are very popular.”
17) Most adjective forms of proper nouns
Capitalize adjective forms of proper nouns: a French song, a Shakespearean play, except for words that have lost their connection to the proper noun over time, like quixotic, which comes from the novel, Don Quixote. Part of learning how to capitalize correctly is learning how to use adjectives correctly.
18) Salutations and closings in letters
Capitalize the first word in a salutation or closing in a letter: “Dear friend;” “With love”
19) Initials, Acronyms
Capitalize the letters of initials and acronyms: CIA, BBC, Elizabeth A. Green
The names of planets are capitalized. Earth, sun, and moon are not required to be capitalized, but it is recommended to capitalize for consistency when other celestial bodies will be capitalized in the same text.
Is Halloween Capitalized?
Halloween is one of the few holidays that is regularly capitalized. While some people argue that all holidays should be lowercase, the general rule is that days of religious or cultural significance should be capitalized.
This includes both Christmas and Easter, as well as Halloween. So next time you’re debating whether or not to capitalize the “h” in Halloween, remember that you’re actually following proper grammar rules!
Takeaway: Proper nouns should always be capitalized.
The President, The Queen, and The Pope – These titles do not have to be capitalized, but some writers do so in order to display respect. The decision to capitalize these terms is not common in the United States, but is in some other locations.
Composition titles – Book, movie, art, play, essay, chapter, and poem titles are capitalized, but only certain words. Here are the rules:
- Capitalize the first and last word of a main title
- Capitalize all verbs (Goes, Is, May)
- Capitalize all pronouns (We, It, She)
- Capitalize “Not”
- Don’t capitalize “a,” “an,” “the” unless they are the first or last word
- Do not capitalize conjunctions unless they are first or last (and, but, for)
- Do not capitalize the word “to” unless it is first or last.
- Capitalize subtitles as if they are titles
When in doubt, do not capitalize a word unless it is used in direct address or as a name or title.
APA Style Capitalization
There are a lot of different styles of capitalization out there. But if you’re looking for the most versatile style, you can’t go wrong with APA.
- APA stands for the American Psychological Association, and its style guide is used by many different disciplines.
The biggest feature of APA style is that it uses “down” style meaning that words are lowercase unless there is specific guidance otherwise.
This makes it great for writing in a variety of contexts. Whether you’re writing a research paper or an email to your boss, you can use APA-style manuals and be confident that you’re using the correct capitalization.
FAQs – Capitalization Rules
Yes, when referring to the holiday of Halloween, it should be capitalized in the middle of a sentence. It is important to capitalize proper nouns so as not to lose the meaning of the sentence. For example, if you were to write “I’m going to a Halloween party on Saturday,” the word “Halloween” would need to be capitalized.
Yes, Halloween is always capitalized in the UK. This is because it is a proper noun, referring to a specific holiday. Therefore, you should always capitalize the word “Halloween” when writing about it.
No, happy is not capitalized in happy Halloween. While some people may capitalize words like Happy or Merry when using them as adjectives before a noun, this is generally seen as incorrect. Only capitalize happy or merry when they are the first word in a sentence.
October is a proper noun and it is capitalized because it is the name of a month. Just as we capitalize the names of other months (January, February, etc.), we capitalize the name of October.
High school senior should not be capitalized because it is not a proper noun. A proper noun is a specific name of a particular person, place, or thing and should always be capitalized. For example, John is a high school senior.
Capitalize only the official and complete names of colleges. For example, “Johns Hopkins University” is properly capitalized, but “hopkins” is not.
High school graduate is not capitalized when used in general terms. When it refers to a particular person, it would be capitalized (like any other name). For example, “She is a high school graduate.”
English capitalization rules can seem confusing at first, but if you take the time to learn them, you’ll be able to write complete sentences with confidence. There are only a few basic rules that you need to remember and we’ve outlined them for you here. Once you’ve got them down pat, your writing will go to the next level!