Capitalization Rules

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Created by: Team English -, Last Updated: June 10, 2024

Capitalization Rules

Capitalization Rules: In English, capitalize the first word of a sentence, proper nouns, and titles. Additionally, capitalize days, months, and holidays, but not seasons. Capitalize the pronoun “I” and the first word in a full quote. In titles and headings, capitalize major words but not conjunctions, articles, or prepositions. Understanding these rules enhances clarity and proper noun distinction in writing, crucial for formal documents and professional communication.

What is Capitalization?

Capitalization is the practice of using uppercase letters at the beginning of words under specific circumstances in English grammar. This grammatical rule helps indicate the beginning of sentences, proper nouns, titles, and other important elements, making written texts clearer and more structured.

Rules of capitalization

Capitalization Rules

Capitalization is an essential aspect of English writing. Proper use of capital letters helps mark the beginning of sentences, distinguish proper nouns from common nouns, and show respect for people, places, and institutions. Here is a detailed overview of the primary rules for capitalization in English:

1. Beginning of Sentences

  • Always capitalize the first word in a complete sentence.
    • Example: Spring is my favorite season.

2. Proper Nouns and Proper Adjectives

  • Capitalize names of people, specific places, specific things, and important events.
    • Examples: John, Paris, the Statue of Liberty, World War II.
  • Capitalize adjectives derived from proper nouns.
    • Example: I love Italian cuisine.

3. Titles and Honorifics

  • Capitalize titles when used before names, but not when they are used alone.
    • Examples: President Lincoln once said… vs. The president once said…
  • Capitalize honorifics and titles of respect.
    • Example: Doctor Smith, Queen Elizabeth.

4. Days, Months, and Holidays

  • Capitalize the days of the week, months of the year, and holidays, but not the seasons.
    • Examples: Monday, January, Thanksgiving. However, spring, summer, fall, winter are not capitalized unless part of a title.

5. Names of Organizations and Brands

  • Capitalize the specific names of organizations, companies, and brands.
    • Examples: United Nations, Google, Coca-Cola.

6. Geographic Names and Features

  • Capitalize specific geographic names, landmarks, and regions.
    • Examples: Mount Everest, the Midwest, the Atlantic Ocean.

7. Major Words in Titles of Books, Articles, and Songs

  • Capitalize the first, last, and important words in the titles of books, articles, movies, and songs.
    • Example: Gone with the Wind, “A Hard Day’s Night.”
  • Do not capitalize short prepositions, articles, or conjunctions unless they start the title.
    • Example: War of the Worlds.

8. Historical Periods and Special Events

  • Capitalize the names of significant historical periods and special events.
    • Examples: the Renaissance, the Great Depression.

9. Direct Address

  • Capitalize a term used to directly address someone.
    • Example: Look, Mom, I’m done with my homework!

10. Beginning of Quotations

  • Capitalize the first word of a direct quotation if the quotation is a complete sentence.
    • Example: She said, “Tomorrow will be better.”

11. Items in a List (In Specific Contexts)

  • When items in a list are complete sentences, capitalize the first word of each item.
    • Example:
      • Today, I need to:
        • Go to the market.
        • Call Dr. Adams.
        • Finish my assignment.

Understanding and correctly applying these capitalization rules enhances the clarity and professionalism of your writing. Whether drafting an email, composing a research paper, or writing a novel, these guidelines are invaluable for effective communication.

Capitalization Rules for Titles

Capitalizing titles correctly in English is crucial for proper grammar and presentation in writing. Whether you’re dealing with the title of a book, an article, a film, or any other work, following the standard capitalization rules can greatly enhance readability and respect the conventions of English usage. Here are the primary rules to follow when capitalizing titles:

Capitalize the First and Last Word

  • Always capitalize the first and the last word of the title.
  • Example: To Kill a Mockingbird

2. Capitalize Major Words

  • Capitalize all nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in the title.
  • Example: The Lord of the Rings

3. Capitalize Longer Prepositions

  • Prepositions of four or more letters should be capitalized.
  • Example: Gone with the Wind

4. Do Not Capitalize Short Prepositions

  • Do not capitalize prepositions of three or fewer letters unless they are the first or last word of the title.
  • Example: Waiting for Godot

5. Do Not Capitalize Articles

  • Articles (“the”, “a”, “an”) should not be capitalized unless they are the first or last word of the title.
  • Example: A Room with a View

6. Do Not Capitalize Conjunctions

  • Conjunctions (e.g., “and”, “but”, “or”, “nor”, “for”, “yet”) should not be capitalized unless they are the first or last word.
  • Example: War and Peace

7. Capitalize No Matter the Part of Speech

  • Regardless of the grammatical role they play in the title, some style guides suggest capitalizing all words that are not articles, prepositions, or conjunctions.
  • Example: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

8. Subtitles

  • If a title has a subtitle, capitalize the first word of the subtitle following the same rules as the main title.
  • Example: Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

When To Capitalize Words (With Examples)

Capitalization in English writing is crucial for proper grammar and clarity. Generally, you should always capitalize the first word of every sentence. This helps to clearly delineate one sentence from the next, which is essential for readability. For example, in the sentence, “The morning was cold and bright,” “The” is capitalized because it is the first word.

Proper nouns—names of specific people, places, organizations, and sometimes things—should always be capitalized. This helps to differentiate between general and specific nouns, providing clarity and respect for the subject. For instance, “Canada,” “Elizabeth,” and “Microsoft” are all proper nouns and should be capitalized, as opposed to common nouns like “country,” “girl,” or “company.”

Titles preceding names are also capitalized, but there are nuances depending on their usage in sentences. For example, “President Lincoln” is capitalized, but if you were to say, “the president lives in the White House,” “president” would not be capitalized. Similarly, titles of books, movies, articles, and other works should capitalize the first, last, and all major words; for instance, “Gone with the Wind.”

Additionally, days of the week, months of the year, and holidays are always capitalized because they are treated as proper nouns. However, the names of the seasons are not capitalized unless they’re part of a title or the first word in a sentence. For example, you would write “Thursday,” “November,” and “Christmas,” but you would write “summer” in lowercase unless it starts a sentence or is part of a title like “Summer Holiday.”

When Not To Capitalize Words

In English grammar, there are specific instances when you should not capitalize words, despite the temptation to do so to emphasize importance. Generally, common nouns and internal elements of a sentence should start with lowercase letters. For example, words like “apple,” “city,” and “car” should not be capitalized unless they begin a sentence or are part of a title. This rule helps maintain a standard structure in written English, making it easier for readers to follow the text.

Another rule is not to capitalize the names of seasons (spring, summer, autumn, winter) unless they are personified in a poetic context or are part of a title. For instance, you would write, “I love the colors of autumn,” but in a headline or title, it might appear as “Autumn Colors Delight the Senses.” This approach keeps the use of capital letters focused on proper nouns and specific titles, enhancing clarity and consistency in writing.

Articles (a, an, the), conjunctions (and, but, or), and prepositions (in, on, at, between) should remain lowercase in the middle of titles, except when they start or end a sentence or are part of a legally formal name. This rule applies even in the titles of books, movies, and other works, making it a crucial aspect of professional writing. For example, in the movie title “The Lord of the Rings,” the article “the” is not capitalized when it appears mid-title.

Finally, you should not capitalize job titles and general descriptions following a person’s name or used in a non-specific way. For example, you would write, “Barack Obama, president of the United States,” without capitalizing “president” because it follows the name and serves as a descriptive term rather than part of the formal title preceding his name. Adhering to these capitalization rules ensures clarity and avoids unnecessary emphasis, maintaining a formal and professional tone in writing.

List of Words Not Capitalized in Titles

In titles of books, articles, movies, and other similar works, certain words are typically not capitalized unless they are the first or last word of the title. Here’s a list of common words that are not capitalized in titles, adhering to most style guidelines such as MLA, APA, and Chicago:


  • a
  • an
  • the

Short Prepositions (Three Letters or Fewer)

  • at
  • by
  • for
  • in
  • of
  • on
  • to
  • up
  • with

Coordinating Conjunctions

  • and
  • but
  • for
  • nor
  • or
  • so
  • yet


What about capitalizing after a colon?

Capitalize the first word after a colon if it begins a complete sentence.

Is it necessary to capitalize acronyms and initialisms?

Yes, all letters in acronyms and initialisms should be capitalized.

How should I handle capitalization in bullet points?

Capitalize the first word in each bullet point if it forms a complete sentence or is a list following a colon.

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