Capitalization in English: a Comprehensive Guide

We capitalize a word when we start it with an uppercase letter while the rest of the letters are in lowercase.

We capitalize a word when we start it with an uppercase letter while the rest of the letters are in lowercase. For example, the word "Monday" is capitalized, and the word "book" is not capitalized.

Skilled writers use capital letters carefully. When in doubt, it's preferable to avoid using them.

Here is a list of rules for the capitalization of English words.

1. Sentences and Punctuation Marks

Capitalize the first word of a document or report:

In this article, we will discuss the latest advancements in technology.

in this article, we will discuss the latest advancements in technology.

Capitalize the first word after a period:

The cat slept soundly. Outside, the rain continued to fall.

The cat slept soundly. outside, the rain continued to fall.

Capitalize the first word of a sentence:

A dog barked loudly outside.

a dog barked loudly outside.

Exception: The first word after a semicolon is not typically capitalized, unless it's a proper noun or another type of word that is always capitalized.

The weather was terrible; we decided to stay indoors.

The weather was terrible; We decided to stay indoors.

The first word following a colon is capitalized if it begins a complete sentence:

Remember this: Tomorrow brings new opportunities.

We also capitalize fragmentary responses. These are brief, incomplete sentences used to convey a message or answer a question. They lack some elements that would make them complete sentences, such as a subject or a verb.

Yes, No, Definitely, etc.

Are you coming to the party? Definitely

Are you coming to the party? definitely

2. Letters

Capitalization Rules in Letter Writing:

  1. Salutation: Capitalize the first word and any proper noun.

    "Dear Mr. Smith," "Hello Alice," etc.

  2. Subject Line: Capitalize the first word and any proper nouns.

    "Request for additional information on your services"

  3. Capitalize the first word in the body of the letter.
  4. The pronoun "I" should always be capitalized.
  5. Closing: Capitalize the first word.

    "Best regards," "Sincerely," etc.

3. Capitalize Proper Nouns

Proper nouns are the specific names given to unique entities, such as people, places, organizations, and sometimes things, that distinguish them from others of a similar kind.

The word "Spain" is a proper noun, and "country" is not a proper noun.

Proper nouns are always capitalized in English to signify their uniqueness:

Renowned for his theory of relativity, Einstein revolutionized modern physics.

Renowned for his theory of relativity, einstein revolutionized modern physics.

In general, avoid capitalizing the article "the" before proper nouns.

Barbara wrote a detailed essay on the causes and consequences of the French Revolution.

Exceptions: In certain instances, when "the" is an integral part of an official title, it may be capitalized:

On his trip to the Netherlands, James visited The Hague to see the famous art museums.

The main role of capital letters is to highlight specific entities within a group of people, places, or things. For instance, we might mention an important city, or we could specify "Bangkok," which distinguishes it from every other city in the world.

Also capitalize adjectives that are derived from proper nouns.

Her favorite Spanish dish, paella, reminded her of her travels through Spain.

Her favorite spanish dish, paella, reminded her of her travels through Spain.

Exceptions: Over time, some words that originated from proper nouns have developed their own significance and authority, and no longer need to be capitalized. For example, "draconian"" (derived from Draco, the ancient Athenian lawgiver), "herculean" (originating from the mythological hero Hercules, or quixotic (from the hero of the Spanish novel Don Quixote).

Here are some key subcategories of proper nouns:

3.1 Names of People

Individual names and nicknames should be capitalized:

"John", "Alice", "Einstein," "The King of Rock and Roll" (nickname for Elvis Presley), or "The Boss" (nickname for Bruce Springsteen).

During the meeting, John proposed a new strategy for the project.

During the meeting, john proposed a new strategy for the project.

3.2 Geographical Names, Territories, Streets, and Roads

Capitalize names of specific places, natural landmarks, territories, streets, and roads:

"Madrid," "Mount Everest," "Asia," "Mississippi River," "Cook County," "Yellowstone National Park," "Bourbon Street," etc.

The conference will be held in New York next month.

The conference will be held in new york next month.

Capitalize names of specific geographical regions:

Many culinary innovations have their origins in the East and have been adapted by the West.

Do not capitalize, however, compass directions:

The storm moved west, bringing heavy rains to the region.

Some regions are capitalized due to their renown, notoriety, or fame:

Silicon Valley, New York's Upper West Side, or Northern California.

Capitalize terms such as "city," "town," or "county" when they form part of a proper noun (e.g., "New York City"); however, it's not necessary to capitalize them when they precede the proper name (e.g., "the city of New York.")

3.3 Names of Days and Months

We also capitalize the days of the week (Monday, Tuesday, etc.) and names of months (January, February, etc.) even if they are abbreviated (Mon., Jan., etc.):

The final presentation is scheduled for next Friday afternoon.

The annual conference is set to take place in November.

3.4 Holidays

Because holidays are specific events, they are considered proper nouns and should be capitalized:

"Christmas," "Thanksgiving," "New Year's Day," "Independence Day," "Halloween," "Easter," "Hanukkah," "Valentine's Day," "Labor Day," "Memorial Day," etc.

As Halloween approached, they started decorating their house with spooky themes.

3.5 Titles of Works

Names of books, songs, movies, and other works are capitalized:

"War and Peace," "Bohemian Rhapsody," or "Titanic."

Often hailed as one of the greatest films ever made, "Citizen Kane" was directed by Orson Welles.

3.6 Brands and Companies

We also capitalize names of companies and brands:

"Google," "Coca-Cola," or "Nike."

They recommended using Google to search for local Italian restaurants with the best reviews.

3.7 Institutions, Organizations, and Governmental Matters

Names of institutions, organizations, and government matters are always capitalized:

"World Health Organization," "Harvard University," "United Nations," or "Red Cross."

The United Nations passed a new resolution to address climate change challenges.

3.8 Historical Events and Periods

Historical events and periods are considered proper nouns, and therefore capitalized.

"World War II," "the Renaissance," "the French Revolution," or "the Great Depression."

David wrote his thesis on the impact of the French Revolution on modern political thought.

3.9 Unique Structures and Monuments

Unique objects, structures, and monuments are considered proper nouns.

"Eiffel Tower," "Great Wall of China," "Statue of Liberty," "Big Ben (clock tower)," "Golden Gate Bridge," "Hoover Dam," or "Hubble Space Telescope."

They bought a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty as a souvenir.

3.10 Planets

The names of planets are capitalized. This rule applies to all celestial bodies, including stars, moons, asteroids, and galaxies.

Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, etc.

Scientists are studying the soil samples collected from Mars.

Note: Never capitalize the "sun" or the "moon."

Whether "earth" should be capitalized depends on the context in which it's used:

  • As a proper noun (planet name): When referring specifically to the planet Earth, it is capitalized.

    Astronauts saw Earth from space.

  • As a common noun: When used in a general sense to refer to soil, ground, or land, it is not capitalized.

    He dug into the earth to plant the tree.

3.11 Nationalities, Races, and Tribes

Nationalities, races, and tribes should be capitalized in English. These are proper nouns or proper adjectives, which require capitalization.

American, Spanish, Japanese, Caucasian, Asian, Hispanic, Apache, Zulu, etc.

In the cooking class, they learned to prepare traditional Chinese dishes

3.12 Religions and Names of Deities

Religions and names of deities should be capitalized. These are considered proper nouns as they refer to specific beliefs, religious practices, and divine figures.

Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, God, Allah, Zeus, Vishnu, etc.

Peter developed a keen interest in the teachings of Buddhism.


  • Do not capitalize "heaven," "hell," "satanic," and "the devil."
  • Capitalize "the Bible", but not "biblical."

3.13 Art Movements

Since art movements refer to specific styles or periods in art history, they are capitalized.

Impressionism, Surrealism, Cubism, Baroque, Renaissance, Abstract Expressionism, or Pop Art.

The colorful and bold style of Pop Art emerged as a prominent artistic movement in the 1950s and 1960s.

3.14 Special Occasions

Special occasions, such as festivals and competitions, are often considered proper nouns.

"The Olympic Games," "Cannes Film Festival," "Oktoberfest," or "Rio Carnival."

The streets were alive with music and dance at the Rio Carnival.

4. Titles and Occupations

Titles are words that denote a specific role, rank, occupation, academic achievement, or honor (e.g., Dr. (doctor), Prof. (professor), president, governor, mayor, chairman of the board, Mr., Mrs., etc.)

Titles should be capitalized when used directly before a person's name:

Dr. Smith, President Lincoln, or Mrs. Thompson.

The successful rescue operation was commanded by Captain Martinez.

Omit the capitalization, however, if the title is followed by a comma.

The financial review was presented by the chairman of the board, Susan Lee, to the stakeholders.

The new initiative was endorsed by the president, Emily Clark, at the international conference.

Avoid capitalizing the title when it appears after a name.

Jacob Brown, the chief executive officer, announced the new operational strategy.

If the title is used instead of the name, do not capitalize it.

The president outlined the company's plans.

Exceptions: Some writers and publishers, as a mark of respect, opt to capitalize the highest positions in royalty, government, religion, and similar domains.

When the King arrived at the ceremony, the crowd erupted in cheers.

Capitalize a formal title when directly addressing someone, with more formal titles being more likely to be capitalized.

"Good morning, President, how are you today?"

"May I help you with anything, Doctor?"

Titles are not the same as occupations. Titles often emphasize rank, honor, or position, while occupations focus on the nature of the work or professional role. A person's title can sometimes be related to their occupation, but it also might reflect a broader societal, academic, or professional status.

Do not capitalize occupations when they precede full names.

The award-winning film was created by director Martin Scorsese, known for her innovative storytelling.

The distinction between title and occupation can become unclear in certain scenarios, particularly when the same term can refer to both a job role and a formal title.

The term "chef" is used for someone who professionally cooks and runs a kitchen (occupation), but it can also imply a title of culinary expertise and leadership in a professional kitchen.

The noun "professor" primarily indicates someone who teaches at a university (occupation), but it is also an academic title awarded to individuals of high academic standing.

5. Course Titles and Academic Subjects

Capitalize specific course titles:

"History of Western Art: Renaissance to Modernism," "Behavioral Neuroscience: Foundations and Applications," or "Foundations of Computational Mathematics."

The professor's new book was based on his lectures from "Advanced Topics in Microeconomic Theory".

Do not capitalize, though, general academic subjects:

The following are general academic subjects or broad fields of study: "mathematics," "biology," "economics," "chemistry," or "sociology."

Her favorite school subject is math because it challenges her.

6. Relatives' Family Names

Capitalize family names of relatives when they directly precede a personal name:

During the holidays, we always visit Aunt Susan at her countryside home.

Additionally, they should be capitalized when used independently as substitutes for a personal name:

The book on the shelf is the one that Mom gave me for my birthday.

Do not capitalize family names in the following situations:

  • When preceded by articles, such as "a" or "the" (e.g., "The mother proudly watched her daughter."
  • When used with possessive pronouns (e.g., "My uncle is here.")
  • When they follow the personal name (e.g., "The Kardashian sisters are entrepreneurs."
  • When they do not refer to a specific person (e.g., "We honor the influence and love of fathers everywhere."

7. Headlines and Composition Titles

When using headlines and composition titles:


  1. The First and Last Words: Always capitalize the first and the last words of the title or headline.
  2. Major Words: This includes verbs, adjectives, adverbs, nouns, and pronouns (including "it").
  3. Subordinating Conjunctions and Longer Prepositions: Words like "because," "while," "although," "between," and "with" are capitalized.
  4. Both Parts of Hyphenated Major Words: In hyphenated words, capitalize both parts (e.g., 'Self-Reflective', 'Long-Term').
  5. "No" and "Not": In headlines, these words are typically capitalized because they are considered important to the meaning of the headline.
  6. Interjection "O".

Study Reveals That Exercise, Not Diet Alone, Is Key to Long-Term Weight-Loss Success

In a Post-Pandemic World, Educators Explore New Approaches to Teaching That Embrace Technology and Flexibility

Do Not Capitalize:

  1. Articles: Words like "the," "a," and "an" are usually not capitalized unless they are the first or last words.
  2. Coordinating Conjunctions: Do not capitalize a coordinating conjunction, such as "and," "or," "but," "so," or "yet," unless it is the first or last word.
  3. The word "to" should not be capitalized.

Schools to Introduce a New Curriculum, Focusing on Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking Skills

City Council to Debate on the Proposed Park, Balancing Community Needs and Environmental Concerns

Prepositions: Some style guides recommend capitalizing prepositions that are longer than three or four letters.

Remember, these are general guidelines and different style guides might have slightly different rules. Use consistent style: If you're following a specific style guide (like APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.), make sure to consistently apply its rules.

8. Abbreviations

The capitalization of an abbreviation depends on its origin, usage, and the specific rules of the language or field in which it is used.

Capital letters are generally used in the following situations:

  1. Proper Nouns: Abbreviations representing proper nouns. Examples: NASA, FDA, Dr.
  2. Acronyms: Formed from the initial letters of a phrase and pronounced as words. Examples: NATO, UNESCO.
  3. Initialisms: Abbreviations consisting of initial letters pronounced separately. Examples: FBI, ATM.
  4. Standard Practice in Certain Fields: Fields like science often have specific conventions. Examples: DNA, RNA.
  5. Academic Degrees and Honors: Abbreviations for academic degrees and honors. Examples: PhD, BA, MD.
  6. Time Zones: They are typically written in capital letters. Examples: "EST" (Eastern Standard Time), "GMT" (Greenwich Mean Time), or "UTC" (Coordinated Universal Time).

Capitalization is often not used for abbreviations in the following scenarios:

  1. Commonly Accepted Lowercase Abbreviations: Abbreviations like "e.g." (for example), "i.e." (that is), "a.m." (ante meridiem), "p.m." (post meridiem), and "etc." (and so on) are often written in lowercase.
  2. Metric and Scientific Units: Units such as "watt" and "kelvin" are typically not capitalized.
  3. Lowercase Medical Conditions: Medical abbreviations for some conditions, like "hiv," are sometimes not capitalized.
  4. Internet and Technology Slang: In informal contexts, abbreviations such as "brb" (be right back) and "lol" (laugh out loud) are usually written in lowercase.

It's important to note that these guidelines can vary based on the specific field, context, and the style guide being followed.

9. Quotations

Capitalize the first word of a complete quotation, even when it appears mid-sentence:

John said, "The meeting starts at noon."

John said, "the meeting starts at noon."

Do not capitalize the first word if the quote is part of a sentence:

Olivia said that it was "important to arrive on time" for the meeting.

Olivia said that it was "Important to arrive on time" for the meeting.

10. Scientific Nomenclature

Capitalization in scientific nomenclature, particularly in biology, follows specific conventions:

  1. Binomial Nomenclature (Species Names): Genus names are capitalized and italicized; species names are not capitalized but italicized.

    Homo sapiens, Canis lupus

  2. Higher Taxonomic Levels: Names like class and family are capitalized.

    Mammalia (class), Canidae (family)

  3. Chemical Elements: Element symbols are capitalized. Full names of chemical elements are not capitalized in mid-sentence.

    O (oxygen), H (hydrogen), Fe (iron)

  4. Diseases: Generally not capitalized except for eponyms and specific places.

    Alzheimer’s disease, Ebola virus

  5. Genes and Proteins: In human genetics, gene symbols are capitalized and italicized, protein names are not italicized, and only the first letter is capitalized.

    BRCA1 (gene), Brca1 (protein)

These conventions help maintain clarity and consistency in scientific communication. The rules can vary slightly depending on the scientific field and the specific organism being referred to.

11. When Not to Capitalize

The following is a partial list of categories that are not capitalized unless they include a proper noun, proper adjective, or sometimes, a trademark. In these instances, only the proper noun or adjective should be capitalized.

  1. Common Nouns: Words naming general items or concepts, e.g., "dog," "city," "happiness."
  2. Generic Job Titles: Titles like "nurse," "teacher," "engineer," when not linked to a specific person's name.
  3. Seasons: Words such as "spring," "summer," "fall," "winter."
  4. Directions and Compass Points: Terms like "north," "south," "east," "west," except when part of a proper noun.
  5. Common Animals and Plants: Names of species like "rose," "oak," "lion," "sparrow," except in proper nouns.
  6. Elements: Chemical elements (oxygen, hydrogen, etc.) are not capitalized when written out in full (unless they appear at the beginning of a sentence or in a title).
  7. Academic Subjects: General study areas like "mathematics," "history," "biology," except in specific course titles.
  8. Diseases and Medical Conditions: Names such as "diabetes," "asthma," or "depression," unless part of a trademarked name.
  9. Colors: Basic color names like "blue," "red," or "green," unless part of a brand or trademark.
  10. Foods and Cuisines: General terms like "pizza," "sushi," or "chocolate," except in proper nouns or brand names.

Remember, the capitalization of these categories changes if they include a proper noun or adjective, which should be capitalized.

12. Gray Areas

Capitalization in English, while governed by well-established rules, often presents gray areas that can lead to confusion. Even seasoned writers sometimes struggle with these nuanced aspects of English grammar. For example:

  1. Brand Names and Common Usage: Brands like "Kleenex" or "Google" are considered proper nouns but become tricky when their names turn into common verbs or nouns (e.g., "googling" or "a kleenex").
  2. Historical Events and Periods: Specific historical events like the "Renaissance" or "World War II" are capitalized, but broader historical periods like "medieval period" or "industrial revolution" can be less clear.
  3. Cultural and Religious Terms: Terms like "catholic" are capitalized when referring to the Catholic Church but often lowercase in a more general sense (e.g., "catholic tastes").
  4. Titles and Job Positions: Capitalization of titles like 'president' or 'queen' depends on usage – as part of a specific name (e.g., "President Lincoln") or generically (e.g., "the queen of England").
  5. Celestial Bodies: Names of planets and stars like "Mars" and "Sirius" are capitalized, while 'moon' and 'sun' are not.

To further complicate matters, some writers occasionally capitalize an independent clause or question mid-sentence for emphasis:

"One of his guiding principles was, Always speak the truth."

When facing such gray areas, it’s advisable to consider the context and, if available, refer to a specific style guide for consistency in writing.

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