Rules for capitalization can be confusing. Not all grammar books agree on the same style. The guidelines in this post are based on the latest accepted usage for business and personal writing.
Capitalize the first word in any sentence, the personal pronoun I, and the first word of a direct quotation if it is a complete statement.
- Night falls quickly in the mountains.
The door was open when I arrived home.
- He looked at the cake and said, “Diets, like pie crust, are made to be broken.”
- Night falls quickly in the mountains.
Proper Nouns and Adjectives
Capitalize all proper nouns and adjectives such as the names of persons, business firms, business products, institutions, government bodies and agencies, and public and private organizations.
Lance Armstrong, Barbara Walters
Wal-Mart, Mrs. Field’s Cookies
Honda Civic, Downy, Dr Pepper
Adler Planetarium, Stanford University
Government bodies and agencies:
Internal Revenue Service, Civil Rights Commission, Office of Homeland Security
Junior Chamber of Commerce, Girl Scouts of America
Midwest Authors Guild, JoAnn Kilmer Foundation
Canadian beer, American flag, Australian kangaroo
Hyphenated Names and Prefixes
Capitalize all hyphenated names and hyphenated proper nouns. Also, capitalize all proper nouns and adjectives used with a prefix, but do not capitalize the prefix.
- Send the bill to Mrs. Simon-Allen.
- The Minneapolis-St. Paul project has been approved.
- I am neither anti-British nor pro-French; I happen to enjoy both countries equally well.
- He will always be a pro-Chicago politician.
Capitalize words describing family relationships only when they substitute for a proper noun or are used with the person’s name. Do not capitalize the words if they are used with a possessive pronoun.
- I told Aunt Julia that my sister would be late.
- She described her father to me perfectly.
- Granny Winters and Grampa McDonough live in the same neighborhood.
- We got a letter from Aunt Helen and Uncle Bill.
- Do you know her cousin Lucia?
Nationalities and Races
Capitalize the names of nationalities. Racial groups may be lowercased or capitalized. The only firm rule is be consistent. If you capitalize one racial group, capitalize the others as well.
Black or black
White or white
Languages and School Subjects
Capitalize languages and those school subjects followed by a number. Do not capitalize general school subjects unless the subject is a language.
Social Science 202
Religious Names and Terms
The names of all religions, denominations, and local groups are capitalized.
Denominations and Movements
Church of the Redeemer
Midwest Baptist Conference
Saint Leonard’s House
Capitalize the names of deities and revered persons.
Lamb of God
Child of God
Mother of God
Capitalize the names of sacred works individual parts.
Book of Job
the Book of David
the Diamond Sutra
Sermon on the Mount
Acts of the Apostles
Capitalize religious holidays and terms relating to the Eucharistic sacrament.
Ascension of the Virgin
Names of other rites and services are not capitalized in a text.
bar (bas) mitzvah
Academic Degrees and Personal Titles
Capitalize academic degrees and personal titles used as part of people’s names or as a substitute for their names. Titles used after a person’s name or by themselves generally are not capitalized.
The exception to the rule occurs when the title refers to the highest national, state, or church offices, such as the President of the United States. In such cases, the title may be capitalized.
Professor Louise Sasaki
Louise Sasaki, PhD
Dr. Bernard Stone
Bernard Stone, MD
President Don Roth
Don Roth, president
Director Ellen Tate
Ellen Tate, director
Vice President Johnson
the Vice President (of the United States)
Pope Benedict XVI
Reverend Alice Milano
General George Custer
Admiral Patricia Tracey
Count von Moltke
Historic Events, Special Events, and Holidays
Capitalize the names of historic events and periods, special events, holidays, and other publicly recognized special days.
Battle of Midway
Black History Month
Hundred Years’ War
Live AID Africa
Miami Book Fair
National Pickle Week
New Year’s Day
World War II
Historical Monuments, Places, and Buildings
Capitalize the names of all historical monuments, places, and buildings.
Arlington National Cemetery
the Chicago Loop
the Latin Quarter
the Prudential Building
Calendar Days, Months, and Seasons
Capitalize the names of all days of the week and months of the year. Seasons of the year are lowercase unless they are personified.
But: Have we not seen, Summer, your jeweled nights, your days young and fair?
Capitalize the first word and all other words except articles (a, an, the) and prepositions under five letters (in, to, out) in charters, treaties, declarations, laws, and other official documents. However, when the words charter, act, treaty, and law are used alone, they generally are not capitalized.
Articles of Incorporation
Declaration of Independence
Treaty of Orleans
Uniform Commercial Code
Titles of Publications
Capitalize the first word and all other words except articles and prepositions under five letters in the titles of books, chapters, magazines, articles, newspapers, musical compositions, and other publications.
The Handmaid’s Tale (opera)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (book)
“The Midwest’s Blue-Collar Blues” (article)
“Do Your Own Tune-Ups” (chapter)
Kansas City Star (newspaper)
Points of the compass are not capitalized when they refer simply to direction or are used as adjectives. They are capitalized when they refer to regions of the country.
the North Central states
Geographic Names and Regions
Capitalize all geographic names and regions of a country, continent, or hemisphere.
Cities, Townships, Countries, States, Continents
Islands, Peninsulas, Straits, Beaches
Strait of Magellan
Strait of Malacca
Bodies of Water
Mountains and Mountain Chains
Parks, Forests, Canyons, Dams
Bright Angel Canyon
Three Gorges Dam
Humboldt Redwoods Forest
Serengeti National Preserve
Yosemite National Park
The rules for capitalizing scientific terms, particularly the division of plants and animals, can be complex and bewildering. This section presents some general rules for capitalizing the more common terms that are likely to be used.
Common Names of Plants and Animals. Usually, lowercase the name of plants and animals, capitalizing only proper nouns and adjectives used with the names. Check a dictionary to be sure of accuracy.
Rhode Island red
Rocky Mountain sheep
rose of Sharon
white leghorn fowl
Geological Terms. Capitalize the names of eras, periods, epochs, and episodes but not the words era, period, and so on used with the term.
- Ice Age (reference to Pleistocene glacial epoch)
- Lower Jurassic period
- Pliocene epoch
- Paleozoic era
- Cambrian period
Astronomical Terms. Capitalize all proper names of asteroids, planets and their satellites, constellations, and other astronomical phenomena. In many cases, earth, sun, and moon are lowercased unless used with other planets in a sentence.
the Crab Nebula
Descriptive terms that apply to astronomical or meteorological phenomena are not capitalized.
the rings of Jupiter
the moons of Uranus
Medical Terms. Lowercase the names of diseases, syndromes, symptoms, tests, drugs, and the like. Capitalize only proper nouns and adjectives or trade names used with these terms.
Physical and Chemical Terms. Lowercase laws, theorems, principles, and the like, capitalizing only proper nouns and adjectives used with these terms. Chemical symbols are also capitalized and set without periods.
general theory of relativity
Newton’s second law
Capitals with Numbers
Capitalize a noun or abbreviation before a number when it designates a formal part of a written work.
Act V, Scene 3
Chapter 14 or Chap. 14
Paragraph 3 or Para. 3
Section 44 or Sec. 44