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Capitalization Rules: Grammar Guide

When to Capitalize Words in English

The English language has many rules about when to use capital letters. In general, always capitalize proper names (the names of unique people, places or things), months of the year and the nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs in titles.

The most important thing to remember is the be consistent. If, for example, you are preparing your resume and you capitalize the title of your previous jobs (Director of Human Resources or Assistant Vice President of Communications) make sure to capitalize each title the same way throughout the document.

Below is a guide of capitalization rules followed by examples. As usual, read the comments for more and leave your own at the bottom of the Hub!

Capitalize the First Word of a Sentence

  • This Hub is about when to use capitalization.

Use Capital "I"

  • My friend and I are going to a musical.

Capitalize Proper Nouns: Specific Person, Place, and Organization Names

  • Abraham Lincoln was born in Hardin County, Kentucky in 1809.
  • Women for Women International is a fantastic organization supporting women all over the world.

Use Capital Letters for Religious Figures

  • The Bible has many stories of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.
  • Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, was the daughter of Zeus and Dione.
  • They prayed to God for the storm to end.

Capitalize Days of the Week, Holidays, and Months of the Year

  • My favorite month of the year is November.

Note: Seasons are not capitalized unless used in a title.

  • I love the fall because of Halloween and Thanksgiving.
  • The catalog for Spring 2006 will be out in February.

Capitalize Countries, Languages, and Nationalities

  • We went to Spain to learn Spanish.

Capitalize Family Relationships Only When Replacing a Proper Name

  • I went on a trip with Father. (Father could be replaced with the father's name.)
  • Your father is six feet tall.
  • When we go to the movies with my aunts, my Aunt Marlie always has to be reminded to be quiet.

Capitalize Titles that Precede Names, but not Titles that Follow Names

  • Senator Dianne Feinstein was first elected in 1992.
  • Dianne Feinstein was the first woman mayor of San Francisco.

Capitalize North, South, East, and West When Used as Names of Regions, but not as Compass Points

  • We lived in the Pacific Northwest for four years.
  • Our house is northwest of Fremont.
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Use Capitals for Letter Salutations and Closings

Only capitalize the first word (and any names).

  • My dear Ms. Taylor,
  • With much love,

Capitalize the First Word in a Quote Even in the Middle of a Sentence

  • My Uncle Bob used to say, "The last time I said no was when they asked me if I had enough."

Use Capitals for Major Words in Titles of Books, Written Works, or Songs.

  • A wonderful grammar book is Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Note: Short prepositions and articles including the, a, or an are not capitalized unless they are the first word.

Capitalize the First Word of Each Line in Poetry or Verse

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

"The Road Not Taken" by Robert Frost

Use Capitals for Members of a Group

  • Many California Democrats will likely vote for Phil Angelides.
  • Barry Bonds played for the San Francisco Giants.

Use Capitals for Events and Periods of Time

  • The Roaring Twenties was a period of affluence.
  • The Democratic Convention is a nationally televised event.

Capitalize Company Trademarks

  • My infant eats Earth's Best baby food.
  • We prefer Coke over Pepsi.

Use Capitals for Words and Abbreviations of Specific Names

  • Katie Couric recently switched from NBC to CBS.
  • She studied Jungian psychology, which focuses on the collective unconscious.

Capitalize Solar System Names

  • The fourth planet from the sun is Mars.

Note: Sun, earth and moon are not usually capitalized.

  • The moon revolves around the earth.

Capitalize First Words in Outlines

I. Food Pyramid

A. Whole grains

1. Breads, cereal, crackers, rice, and pasta

Whether to Capitalize "Bachelor's Degree"

The Definitive Guide to Grammar: Strunk and White