Are You Following These Rules of Capitalization?

Knowing when to capitalize a word is one of those items that seem like it’s pretty easy, until you start looking into the issue in greater detail.  That is where is can get confusing.  We’re going to try and make this easier for you by giving you some easy rules for capitalization to follow.  While proper capitalization won’t improve the quality of your writing, it will definitely improve the perception of your writing, and you definitely want to make a good impression!

First, here are a few of the rules of capitalization that are the most common.  If you are like most people, you probably remember many of these rules from school.

You should always capitalize the following:

  • The pronoun “I”
  • The first word in a sentence
  • The names of the normal “calendar” items.  This includes the days of the week, months, holidays and religious holidays.
  • The first word of the salutation on a letter or email – Example: Sincerely yours
  • Any race, language or nationality – Example: French, Native American, Swedish, Swedes, etc
  • Religions and religious terms – Example:  God, Jesus, Christian, Christianity, Allah, Muslim, etc
  • Specific course names – Example: I’m taking Literature 203 this year vs. I’m taking a literature course.
  • Brand names
  • Titles – You should always capitalize the first, last and all “important” words of a title.  Generally, words that are considered “unimportant” are articles (a, an, the) and shorter prepositions (to, on, by, etc)

After that, the rules of capitalization get a little trickier to follow.  The rules are still very specific, however for many people they are more difficult to remember because they are a little more complicated.

rules for capitalization
Example from

The rules of capitalization say you should capitalize the following:

  • A proper noun – A “regular” noun is defined as a person, place or thing. Those are not capitalized because you could be referring to ANY person, place or thing.   However, a proper noun DOES get capitalized because you are talking about a SPECIFIC person, place or thing.
    • restaurant vs McDonalds
    • cat vs Garfield
    • city vs Las Vegas
    • mountains vs Rocky Mountains
  • Title of a person – You should always capitalize a title when it comes BEFORE a person’s name.  Example: Uncle Bob vs Bob, my uncle, Senator Flynn vs Mrs Flynn, the senator.
  • The very first word when you are using a direct quotation.  If the quote is split (within the same sentence), the second part is not capitalized.  Example: Bob said, “Yes, we would like to go.”  “Yes”, Bob said, “we would like to go”.

A good online spell checker should be able to handle some of these rules of capitalization for you if you miss them.  However, it is impossible for a spell checking tool to catch all of your errors.

All spellchecking systems have problems with some of the capitalization rules.  Much of this difficulty comes from the rule about capitalizing proper nouns.  A good spell checking tool should know most of the COMMON proper nouns, but it not possible for a spell checker to know every single name and other proper nouns that should be capitalized.  The more unique the name, the less likely a spell checker tool will be able to identify it to make sure it gets proper capitalization.

That is why it is important for you to have at least a basic understanding of the rules of capitalization.  A quality spell checker tool can find most of your errors, but it will be up to you to find the rest!