With so much communication taking place digitally these days, capitalization is ALL OVER THE PLACE. The rules are becoming more and more arbitrary. Some bending of capitalization rules can be clever, but most slip-ups are just plain irritating. Why, For Example, Do People Do This?
On the flip side:
all the younger kiddos keep everything small and their aesthetic cute and they genuinely think it is aggressive to capitalize words or punctuate their sentences
In keeping with the capitalization habits of the younger generations, many song titles are now void of upper-case letters altogether. Or, they opt for an all-caps approach.
And many brands — like Amazon, Facebook, Macy’s, and Airbnb — have switched to all lower-case logos. Everyone wants to be casual, approachable, cool, and easy-going. To many people, capitalizing — much like correct punctuation and spelling — can be perceived as abrasive, rigid, or boring.
On the other extreme, some people scream in all-caps TO GET A POINT ACROSS (or, perhaps, ACCIDENTALLY do this, due to features like autocorrect). Some are tempted to use it to emphasize IMPORTANT words when bolding and italicizing are not an option (on social media and most mobile messaging, for example).
Some use it in a mocking or playful way: *oMg! CaPiTaLiZaTiOn mAtTeRs!*
Despite your preferred flavor of case (be it “upper” or “lower’), I’ll share some general rules that most people agree on. If you are writing anything that is even a little bit formal, it’s best to capitalize correctly.
COMMON NOUNS (not capitalized) vs. PROPER NOUNS (capitalized)
Most know that you should capitalize the first word of a sentence and proper nouns, but let’s dive a little deeper into proper nouns.
- names of people — Dolly Parton is a national treasure.
- titles of people — We loved the lecture by Professor Bower.
- names of cities — He just moved here from New York City.
- countries — We are visiting France and Italy this year.
- companies — She just took a job at Pinterest.
- organizations — He is obsessed with the Boston Red Sox.
- famous buildings — Let’s go to the top of the Empire State Building.
- famous places — I can’t wait to see Mount Everest.
- religions — The wedding will have a full Catholic ceremony.
- languages — The kids speak Spanish fluently.
- political parties — He’s running as a Republican.
- days — Let’s go to dinner Friday.
- months — It’s almost April!
- holidays — Don’t forget Valentine’s Day!
- historical periods — Many of my favorite paintings came out of the Renaissance.
- historical events — He fought in World War II.
- historical documents — They tried to steal the Declaration of Independence.
In some unusual cases, names can be lower-case. Like the names of poet e e cummings, feminist icon bell hooks, scholar danah boyd, and musician k.d. lang.
Sometimes, there is a combination of caps within company names and acronyms.
DON’T CAPITALIZE SEASONS!
Keep winter, spring, summer, fall, and autumn lowercase.
WHAT ABOUT REGIONS?
Do capitalize specific regions as they relate to the cardinal directions, but don’t capitalize the general directions themselves.
CORRECT: I want to move back to the Southeast.
CORRECT: He lives two miles south of town.
THE FAMILY MEMBER RULE
If you are directly referring to a parent or grandparent and using that title in place of their actual name, it should be capitalized.
CORRECT: I talked to Mom earlier.
CORRECT: Can you help me, Dad?
CORRECT: I called Grandma last night.
If you are not using the word in a direct reference or instead of a name, do not capitalize.
CORRECT: Have you seen my mom?
CORRECT: She is staying at her dad’s house.
CORRECT: I left it in my grandmother’s car.
NAMING BOOKS, SONGS, MOVIES, AND ARTICLES
First things first, you can always use the online tool, Capitalize My Title, which gives you the correct title or sentence based on major style guides.
Typically, we capitalize significant words in titles of books, articles, and songs, but leave short prepositions, conjunctions, or articles (the, a, at, it, etc.) lowercase unless they are the first word of the title, or they’re more than five letters (around, etc.).
CORRECT: Have you read Of Mice and Men?
CORRECT: Play “Smells Like Teen Spirit!”
WHEN QUOTING SOMEONE
Capitalize the first word of a quote when the quote is a complete sentence.
CORRECT: Chloe asked, “Do you want to hang out this weekend?”
CORRECT: I answered, “We are going out of town.”
When it’s a partial quote and not a stand-alone statement, there is no need to capitalize the first word.
CORRECT: Maria is “way too slammed” to make happy hour.
CORRECT: Brad describes grammar as “annoyingly difficult to understand.”
AFTER A COLON OR SEMICOLON
Unless the next word is “I” or a proper noun, you typically do not need to capitalize the first word after a colon or semicolon. However, some style guides (like APA) say that you can capitalize the first letter or the first word if a complete sentence comes after the colon.
CORRECT: I need three things in life: coffee, Pilates, and books.
CORRECT: The roads are terrible; it’s been snowing all morning.
Capitalize on these rules, y’all! Don’t forget to email your grammar topics to [email protected]. See you next month!
For more grammar, spelling, and word usage tips, explore our Grammar Guru archives HERE!