To Capitalize or Not Capitalize…

Do you know the appropriate time for using uppercase or lowercase letters in your writing?

Do you know the appropriate time for using uppercase or lowercase letters in your writing?

For a freelance writer, the further you are from your high school or college days, the blurrier capitalization rules become. For starters, let’s get the obvious out of the way – capitalize the first letter of the first word at the start of every new sentence – even if it’s not a complete one. For some of the brick walls you may hit while writing Web content, reporting a news story, or penning the next great American novel – consider the following:

Academic Degrees

Earning an academic degree or professional designation earns you capitalization, whether you are Janice Jones, Ph.D. or Joseph Jones, M.D.

Bible References

All names for the Bible are capitalized, including all parts, versions, and names of other sacred texts. Examples include the Old Testament, Lord’s Prayer, Word of God, and Gospel of Luke. All deities are capitalized, such as Almighty, Lord, Holy Spirit, Messiah, and Holy Trinity. The Devil also receives capitalization honors, including Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, Satan, Evil One, and Beelzebub.

Continents, Countries, Counties, Districts, Cities, and Towns

Capitalize the names of political divisions, such as the United Kingdom. Other examples include Africa or Sierra Leone. Synonyms for a country are also capitalized, like the Nation or the Republic.

Courts

Capitalize federal, state, provincial courts when used with a definite name, such as the United States Circuit Court or the State Court of Appeals. However, do not capitalize district or city courts, such as the magistrate’s court.

Compass Points

When compass points indicate geographical parts of a country, region or city – capitalize. Examples include Southwestern states or Eastern troops. Capitalize northern, southern, western, eastern, east, west, north, and south when used as part of a proper name to refer to a world division, like the Western Hemisphere. However, if you are identifying a certain part of a state or province, such as eastern New York – do not capitalize.

Eras and Historical Periods

Common names for historical epochs, periods and events are capitalized, as well as scientific names for eras of the world, like the Iron Age, the Great Depression, and the Renaissance.

Flags

Show a little respect for the flags of our nations by capitalizing names and synonyms, such as the Star-Spangled Banner and Old Glory.

Government Departments

When writing that government mystery novel, make sure to capitalize any departments, boards, bureaus, offices, agencies, commissions, committees and services of the government when mentioning them by name, such as the Federal Reserve Board, Environmental Protection Agency, and the infamous Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Military

When referring to the Army, Navy, and Air Force, use capitalization. Examples: French Army, Marine Corps, 1st Regiment, the Army, and U.S. Air Force.

Names

While one of the first things we learned about capitalization was to give proper nouns their appropriate respect (like Cory Barker and Sandra D. Wilson), not all capitalization rules are easily committed to memory. Capitalize epithets added to proper names, people, and places, such as the Golden Gate, Alexander the Great, or the Dallas Mavericks.

When it comes to family, capitalize references to your parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins when personally addressing them, but not when used as a possession pronoun.

Examples: Aunt Mary had a heart of gold, but Cousin Jack didn’t care much for charity.
“You were the best thing that ever happened to me, Mother.”
My father and brother started a business, while my mother looked after the rest of my siblings.

Organizations

Established groups, clubs, societies, associations, companies, foundations, institutes, and organizations receive capitalization, like the Mooseheads, Democrats, Google, Knights of Columbus, and the National Breast Cancer Society.

Personal Titles

In academic and religious circles, capitalize a personal title when it precedes a name or if you are personally addressing an individual, as seen in Professor Joey Cantone, Dr. Paula Dupree, or “Doctor, am I going to live?” When using the titles Doctor and Reverend, please note that they are typically abbreviated, but often spelled out for formal instances.

Capitalize the titles of government employees, and people with titles associated with rank, respect, and honor, such as Senator Todd Thatcher, Secretary of Defense, Queen of England, and President of the United States.

Quotations

When quoting a source or giving a voice to your characters, remember to capitalize the first word of every complete quotation set within quotation marks, such as: My teacher asked, “Which literary figure do you like most?” However, never capitalize the part of a quote that resumes within the same sentence, like: “Which literary figure do you like most,” my teacher asked, “out of Shakespeare or Poe?”

Streets, Buildings, Parks, Statues, and Monuments

Capitalize the names of churches, thoroughfares, schools, parks, squares, and towers as well. Examples include Empire State Building or Mulberry Square.

Didn’t find an answer to your capitalization question? Ask the Priceless Team.

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Posted by Yona

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10 Comments

  1. Edie, October 22, 2009:

    Nice primer…quite concise and interesting!

  2. Forex_strategies_, November 24, 2009:

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  3. Pam, January 25, 2012:

    …and their families, past, present, and future, who served in our nation’s Armed Forces.

    Question: Should “nation” be capitalized?

  4. The Priceless Team, January 25, 2012:

    Hi Pam,

    In your example, nation does not need to be capitalized. According to most style guides, ‘armed forces’ can be in lower case as well!

  5. Deborah Gake, February 1, 2012:

    Should the name of a common recurring document, produced on a daily basis, be capitalized when referenced in another document? Example: Record all such instances in the shift report (or Shift Report).

  6. The Priceless Team, February 3, 2012:

    Hi Deborah,

    In the instance you described, shift report wouldn’t need to be capitalized. However, if you were referring to the title of a specific shift report, you would capitalize it. Example: Please be sure to read section 4 of Shift Report C thoroughly.

  7. Jane Lord Dellinger, May 17, 2012:

    Do you capitalize the name of a team in a business? For example, the Development Team is responsible for creating the project plan. Do you capitalize a generic job position? For example, the technician fixed the problem.

    Thanks,
    Jane

  8. The Priceless Team, May 18, 2012:

    Hi Jane,

    In your example, the team name wouldn’t be capitalized. A generic job position wouldn’t be capitalized, either. For a general rule, job titles are capitalized only when following a name in a sentence. For instance, “Mary, Development Manager, will have our outline available this morning.”

    When using “the” before a job title or team name, it is also not capitalized – such as in your example, or this one: “Mary, the development manager, will have our outline available this morning.”

    Hope that helps!

  9. Stephanie, September 28, 2012:

    Should the word “Era” be capitalized when following the word Renaissance? Example:” Diversity in religion and modern society has created a broad perception of the art work from Europe in the fourteen through the sixteenth centuries, also known as the Renaissance era.”

  10. The Priceless Team, September 29, 2012:

    Hi there Stephanie,

    Capitalize only the proper nouns or adjectives in general descriptions of a period, such as “the Victorian era.”

    Other examples:

    classical Rome
    the fall of Troy
    ancient Greece

    Thanks for your question.

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