Capitalization

 

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To learn more about capitalization, check out our slideshow, Capitalize This!

 

Capitalize the Following:

  1. The first word of every sentence.
  2. The first-person singular pronoun, I.
  3. The first, last, and important words in a title. The concept “important words” usually does not include articles, short prepositions (which means you might want to capitalize towards or between), the to of an infinitive, and coordinating conjunctions. This is not true in APA Reference lists (where we capitalize only the first word), nor is it necessarily true for titles in other languages.
  4. Proper nouns
    • Specific persons and things: Pierre Trudeau, the CN Tower, the Queensway.
    • Specific geographical locations: Kingston, British Columbia, Africa, the Canadian Rockies, Lake Erie, the Sahara Desert. However, we do not capitalize directions or locations that aren’t being used as names: the north side of the city; we’re leaving North Bay and heading south this winter. When we combine proper nouns, we capitalize attributive words when they precede place-names, as in Lakes Erie and Ontario, but the opposite happens when the order is reversed: the Appalachian and Adirondack mountains. When a term is used descriptively, as opposed to being an actual part of a proper noun, do not capitalize it, as in “The California deserts do not get as hot as the Sahara Desert.”
    • Names of celestial bodies: Mars, Saturn, the Milky Way. Do not, however, capitalize earth, moon, sun, except when those names appear in a context in which other (capitalized) celestial bodies are mentioned. “I like it here on earth,” but “It is further from Earth to Mars than it is from Mercury to the Sun.”
    • Names of newspapers and journals. Do not, however, capitalize the word the, even when it is part of the newspaper’s title: the Toronto Star.
    • Days of the week, months, holidays: Monday, March, Easter. Do not, however, capitalize the names of seasons (spring, summer, fall, autumn, winter). “Next winter, we’re traveling south; by spring, we’ll be back up north.”
    • Historical events: World War I, the Renaissance, the Crusades.
    • Races, nationalities, languages: Swedes, Swedish, Jewish, French, Native American. (Most writers do not capitalize whites, blacks.)
    • Names of religions and religious terms: God, Christ, Allah, Buddha, Christianity, Christians, Judaism, Jews, Islam, Muslims.
    • Names of courses: Economics, Biology 101. (However, we would write: “I’m taking courses in biology and earth science this summer.”)
    • Brand names: Tide, Maytag, Chevrolet.
  5. Names of relationships only when they are a part of or a substitute for a person’s name. Often this means that when there is a modifier, such as a possessive pronoun, in front of such a word, we do not capitalize it: Let’s go visit Grandma today. Let’s go visit my grandmother today. We don’t normally capitalize the name of a “vocative” or term of endearment: Can you get the paper for me, hon?

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Capitalizing People’s Titles and the Names of Political Entities

One of the most frequently asked questions about capitalization is whether or not to capitalize people’s job titles or the names of political or quasi-political entities. When a title appears as part of a person’s name, usually before the name, it is capitalized: Professor Farbman (or Professor of Physics Herschel Farbman), Mayor Ford, Prime Minister Stephen Harper. On the other hand, when the title appears after the name, it is not capitalized: Herschel Farbman, professor of history; Rob Ford, former mayor of the city of Toronto; Juan Carlos, king of Spain. Although we don’t capitalize “professor of history” after the individual’s name, we would capitalize department and program names when they are used in full: He worked in the Department of Behavioral Sciences before he started to teach physics. (We do not capitalize majors or academic disciplines unless they refer to a language, ethnic group, or geographical entity: Juan is an economics major, but he loves his courses in French and East European studies.)

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Exercises

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