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To Cap or Not to Cap

Wondering whether a specific word should be capitalized or not? Writers of all genres have questions at one time or another about the rules for capitalization. The following guidelines can help you determine when to use capital letters (and when not to).

Capitalization rules:

Capitalize the first word of a sentence, including the first word of a quoted sentence.

It wasn’t easy to ignore him when he yelled, “Get a life, you weasel!”

Capitalize proper nouns.

Lake Michigan, State Street, Williams Welding Company, Jupiter, Pacific Ocean

Capitalize titles that precede the name. Do not capitalize if the title is a description that follows the person’s name.

The best course was taught by Professor Leo Smith.

Leo Smith, one of the college’s professors, edited the literary magazine.

Capitalize titles when used in address.

The stand is yours, Officer Higgins.

Is it possible, Doctor, that you made a mistake?

Capitalize family relationships only when used as proper names.

I went to visit Uncle Frank, but my other uncles couldn’t go with me. I was able to convince Father to come with me, but my mother didn’t feel well.

Do not capitalize directions unless they are part of a proper name or refer to a specific region.

Each week I travel a few miles south to West Yorkshire.

They’re packing up and heading for the Southwest.

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Capitalize the names of God, religious figures, and holy books. Do not capitalize the nonspecific use of the word “god.”

She covered all her bases and sent up prayers to God, Buddha, and the Virgin Mary.

In some cultures, the worship of many gods is more common than monotheism.

Capitalize the days of the week, months, and holidays. Do not capitalize the seasons unless the season has been personified—and even then it’s optional and sometimes considered old-fashioned.

We celebrate Thanksgiving in November, just as fall begins its transition into winter.

Suddenly, the icy breath of Winter chilled our skin.

Capitalize periods and events. Do not capitalize century numbers.

Great Depression

twentieth century

Capitalize political, social, military, and athletic groups.

Seattle Mariners

Republicans

Native Americans

Mothers Against Drunk Driving

Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy

And one final tip. In creative writing, it’s tempting to capitalize words that are important to your sentence, such as “love” or “justice.” This is generally frowned upon.

Questions? Since 1994, writers have been capitalizing on the expertise of the Writer’s Relief proofing staff and submission strategists to get their work published!

2 Responses to To Cap or Not to Cap

  1. Thanks. I was wondering about the personified versions of the seasons, and this helped clear up the confusion. So once again thank you

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