Capitalization Rules and Examples - Punctuation

Capitalization? What a capital idea!

What is Capitalization?

When you use a capital letter, that’s capitalization! Easy, right?

Most people know you capitalize the first word of a sentence or someone’s name. And, in general, you just need to follow a few simple rules for proper capitalization.

But there are a few tricky ones, including title capitalization, that are good to review. So, check out the rules below, and you’ll be a capitalization pro before you know it!

capitalization rules

Everyday Capitalization

First Letter of a Sentence

Whenever you write something, you always capitalize the first letter of the first word of a sentence. That’s it! It doesn’t matter what the word is – the first letter is always a capital letter.

For example:

  • That house is blue and yellow.
  • My dog loves to run.
  • What is your favorite ice cream flavor?

Pronoun “I”

This is another easy rule! You always capitalize the pronoun “I,” no matter where it is in the sentence.

For example:

  • Where do I sit?
  • He has no idea that I stole his cookie.
  • Keep what I said between the two of us, okay?

However, “me” doesn’t follow the same rule. Instead, most of the time, “me” is lowercase. 

For example: 

  • Please give me the ball.
  • What do you want from me?
  • Mr. Wright told me to sit down.

This situation wouldn’t happen often because of how we use “me” in English, but it’s something to keep in mind: if “me” comes at the beginning of a sentence or quotation, you would capitalize it.

The same is true for all of the other personal and possessive pronouns: none of them are capitalized either, unless they’re at the beginning of a sentence or fit one of the other rules below.


Names, Other Proper Nouns, and Proper Adjectives

Names

In general, everyone’s name is capitalized in English! Whether your name is Benedict, Laverne, or Rohit, you always capitalize the first letter of your name.

In fact, you capitalize the first letter of each of your names, including your first, middle, and last names.

For example:

  • Oprah Gail Winfrey
  • Johann Sebastian Bach
  • John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
  • Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderón

There are a few instances where people choose not to capitalize their own name. But this is very much an exception. Examples include e e cummings and bell hooks.

Also, you need to capitalize people’s titles, prefixes, and suffixes. Any word that goes along with someone’s name should be capitalized, including words like these:

  • King, Queen, Princess, Prince
  • President, Prime Minister, Senator, Representative
  • Duke, Duchess, Lady, Lord
  • Chief
  • Senior (Sr.), Junior (Jr.)
  • Mister (Mr.), Mrs., Ms., Mx.
  • Chef, Doctor (Dr.)

Here are some examples:

  • Mr. Rogers
  • General George Washington
  • President Barack Obama
  • Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Chef Julia Child
  • Dr. Jane Goodall

However, you don’t capitalize these words if they don’t appear with the person’s name.

For example:

  • The president made a speech yesterday.
  • I saw the queen when she drove by!
  • Have you been to a doctor lately?

Proper Nouns and Proper Adjectives

Aside from names, other proper nouns should be capitalized too. As well, you need to capitalize proper adjectives.


Dates

The names of the days of the week, the months of the year, and holidays are all capitalized.

Here are some examples:

  • Monday, Wednesday, Friday
  • March, August, December
  • Halloween, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day

But keep in mind that you don’t capitalize the four seasons: spring, summer, winter, fall/autumn.

Also, historical time periods or events are capitalized if they are proper nouns

For example:

  • the Renaissance, the Dark Ages
  • World War I, the Civil War
  • the Industrial Revolution

Languages, Places, and Nationalities

Languages are proper nouns, so you need to capitalize them too. And nationalities can be both proper nouns or adjectives. But either way, they should be capitalized.

Also, the names of countries, states and provinces, cities, streets, and other places are proper nouns. Therefore, you need to capitalize them, too.

For example:

  • Lithuania, Botswana, Paraguay
  • Albanian, Vietnamese, Honduran
  • Spanish, Thai, Indonesian, English
  • Missouri, Guanajuato, New Brunswick
  • Geneva, New York, Mumbai
  • Las Vegas Boulevard, Abbey Road

Acronyms and Initials

When you write acronyms or initials, you always capitalize every letter – not just the first one!

For example:

  • FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football)
  • FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • ASAP (as soon as possible)
  • FYI (for your information)
  • MLK (Martin Luther King)

Quotations

This is where capitalization gets a little tricky. But don’t worry! Capitalizing quotes just depends on what they are.

Generally, you capitalize the first word of a quotation if it’s a full sentence – even if it’s in the middle of a sentence.

For example:

  • Carlos asked, “Which one is your mother?”
  • She screamed, “The door is that way!”

However, you don’t capitalize a quotation if it’s just a phrase and not a full sentence.

For example:

  • I can’t believe Mitzy said the test was “way too hard.” I thought it was easy. 
  • According to doctors, this disease is “extremely difficult to cure.”

Title Capitalization

For titles of books, movies, songs, TV shows, and other things, you follow the everyday capitalization rules. But, there are more rules you need to add!

There are different style guides for English grammar, and title capitalization rules can change between the different styles. However, there are a few rules that apply to almost all of them.

First, you should always capitalize the first word of the title, just as you would for a sentence.

Next, as a very general rule, you should capitalize the important words in a title. Usually, these are the nouns, adjectives, verbs, or adverbs.

But short words – like articles, prepositions, or coordinating conjunctions – don’t get capitalized.

Here are some examples of titles:

  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • War and Peace
  • I Will Survive
  • Stairway to Heaven
  • Come as You Are
  • The Godfather
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • In the Mood for Love

While there are websites that can check title capitalization for you, it’s good to know the rules yourself!

Also, always check a style guide to make sure you’re following the rules for the type of writing you’re doing.


Conclusion

Capitalization is a basic feature of written English, so it’s important to get it correct! Luckily, most of the rules are pretty easy.

And if you’re feeling stuck, you can always check a dictionary or style guide to help you figure out how to do it properly.

For more great grammar tips and tricks, check out the other articles on this site!


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