Rules on Capitalization

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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.”

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.

Personal names:

Lance Armstrong, Barbara Walters

Business firm:

Wal-Mart, Mrs. Field’s Cookies

Business products:

Honda Civic, Downy, Dr Pepper

Institutions:

Adler Planetarium, Stanford University

Government bodies and agencies:

Internal Revenue Service, Civil Rights Commission, Office of Homeland Security

Public organizations:

Junior Chamber of Commerce, Girl Scouts of America

Private organizations:

Midwest Authors Guild, JoAnn Kilmer Foundation

Proper adjectives:

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.

Family Relationships

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.

Nationalities

Racial Groups

Australian

Chinese

Indian

Thai

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.

Languages

School Subjects

Arabic

English

Korean

Polish

Biology 403

French

history

literature

Social Science 202

conversational Spanish

statistics

Religious Names and Terms

The names of all religions, denominations, and local groups are capitalized.

Religions

Buddhism

Islam

Shintoism

Christianity

Judaism

Taoism

Hinduism

Denominations and Movements

Jehovah’s Witnesses

Methodism

Mormonism

Sufism

Theosophy

Zen Buddhism

Local Groups

Church of the Redeemer

Midwest Baptist Conference

Saint Leonard's House

Temple Shalom

Capitalize the names of deities and revered persons.

the Almighty

Allah

Lamb of God

Pan

Kali

Child of God

Jehovah

Holy Ghost

Shiva

Egun-gun

the Word

Logos

Mother of God

Kwan Yin

Astarte

Capitalize the names of sacred works individual parts.

the Bible

the Talmud

Genesis

Apostles’ Creed

the Decalogue

the Koran

the Vedas

the Beatitudes

Epistles

Book of Job

the Book of David

the Tripitaka

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

Christmas

Easter

High Mass

Holy Communion

Lent

Passover

Ramadan

Yom Kippur

Names of other rites and services are not capitalized in a text.

baptism

bar (bas) mitzvah

confession

confirmation

evening prayer

matins

seder

vesper service

worship service

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)

Cardinal Cody

the Cardinal

Pope Benedict XVI

the Pope

Reverend Alice Milano

the reverend

General George Custer

the general

Admiral Patricia Tracey

the admiral

Queen Elizabeth

the Queen

Count von Moltke

the count

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

Columbus Day

Elizabethan Age

Han Dynasty

Hundred Years’ War

Labor Day

Live AID Africa

Miami Book Fair

Mother’s Day

National Pickle Week

New Year’s Day

Nicene Council

Presidents’ Day

Thanksgiving

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

Times Square

Washington Monument

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.

Tuesday

November

fall

Wednesday

June

winter

Friday

April

summer

But: Have we not seen, Summer, your jeweled nights, your days young and fair?

Documents

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

Magna Carta

Treaty of Orleans

Uniform Commercial Code

Wanger Act

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)

Compass Points

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.

east

west

the South

the North Central states

north

south

the East

southwest

northwest

the Southwest

eastern

western

the Northeast

Geographic Names and Regions

Capitalize all geographic names and regions of a country, continent, or hemisphere.

Cities, Townships, Countries, States, Continents

California

India

New York

Niles Township

South America

Western Hemisphere

Islands, Peninsulas, Straits, Beaches

Baja Peninsula

Canary Islands

Strait of Magellan

Strait of Malacca

Myrtle Beach

Padre Island

Bodies of Water

Aegean Sea

Lake Tahoe

Nile River

Tinker Creek

Victoria Falls

Walden Pond

Mountains and Mountain Chains

the Andes

Cascade Mountains

Kilimanjaro

Mount Everest

Mount Fuji

Pikes Peak

Parks, Forests, Canyons, Dams

Aswan Dam

Bright Angel Canyon

Three Gorges Dam

Humboldt Redwoods Forest

Serengeti National Preserve

Yosemite National Park

Scientific Terms

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.

black-eyed Susan

Cooper’s hawk

border collie

golden retriever

jack-in-the-pulpit

mustang

Persian cat

rhesus monkey

Rhode Island red

Rocky Mountain sheep

rose of Sharon

Thomson’s gazelle

thoroughbred

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.

Alpha Centauri

Andromeda Galaxy

Arcturus

Big Dipper

Cassiopeia

the Crab Nebula

Demos

Halley’s Comet

the Leonids

Mercury

Milky Way

North Star

Orion

Pleiades

Saturn

Descriptive terms that apply to astronomical or meteorological phenomena are not capitalized.

aurora borealis

blizzard

hurricane

the rings of Jupiter

meteor shower

sun dogs

tornado

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.

aspirin

finger-nose test

Guillain-Barré syndrome

infectious granuloma

acetaminophen

Parkinson’s disease

poliomyelitis

Salk vaccine

tetracycline

Tylenol

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.

Boyle’s law

C-14

carbon 14

general theory of relativity

Lorenz transformations

Maxwell’s equations

Newton’s second law

Planck’s constant

sulfuric acid

uranium 238

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

Book IV

Chapter 14 or Chap. 14

Paragraph 3 or Para. 3

Section 44 or Sec. 44

Unit 3

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