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GENERAL EDUCATION

Rules on Capitalization

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. 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.

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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.

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.

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.

Religious Names and Terms

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

Capitalize the names of deities and revered persons.

Capitalize the names of sacred works individual parts.

Capitalize religious holidays and terms relating to the Eucharistic sacrament.

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

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.

Historic Events, Special Events, and Holidays

Capitalize the names of historic events and periods, special events, holidays, and other publicly recognized special days.

Historical Monuments, Places, and Buildings

Capitalize the names of all historical monuments, places, and buildings.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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

Bodies of Water

Mountains and Mountain Chains

Parks, Forests, Canyons, Dams

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.

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.

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

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.

Capitals with Numbers

Capitalize a noun or abbreviation before a number when it designates a formal part of a written work.

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