Capitalization Rules

You might have noticed that in English, some words start with a capital letter, and others don’t. The rules for capitalization are not the same in every language, which can confuse students. Here are some rules to help you understand when you need to use a capital letter, and when you don’t.

1. Capitalize the first word of a sentence – even a quoted sentence.

When she arrives, offer her a cup of tea.
Treat her as you would your own daughter.
He said, “Treat her as you would your own daughter.”
Look out! You almost ran into my child!
“Look out!” she screamed. “You almost ran into my child.”

2. Capitalize a proper noun. Capitalize the abbreviation of a proper noun.

Golden Gate Bridge
George Wilbanks
G. Wilbanks
Lake Johnson
United States of America

3. Capitalize a person’s title when acts like part of the person’s name. Do not capitalize when the title is acting only as a description of the person.

Vice President Romanov
Mr. Romanov, the vice president of the company, will speak to us at noon.
The president will address Congress.
All senators are expected to attend.
The governors, lieutenant governors, and attorneys general called for a special task force.
Governor Purdue, Lieutenant Governor Harrelson, Attorney General Malek, and Senators Rumson and Flavin will attend.

4. Capitalize the person’s title when it follows the name on the address or signature line.

Ms. Callahan, Chairperson

5. Capitalize any title when used as a direct address.

Will you take my temperature, Doctor?
You won’t leave, will you, Father?

6. Capitalize points of the compass only when they refer to specific regions. Do not capitalize when they refer to directions

I have lived in the South for most of my life.
Go south three blocks and then turn left.
We live in the southeast section of town. (Southeast is just an adjective here describing section, so it should not be capitalized.)

7. Capitalize the first and last words of titles regardless of their parts of speech. Capitalize most other words within titles, including the short verb forms Is, Are, and Be.

Do not capitalize little words within titles such as articles (a, an, the), coordinating conjunctions (but, as, if, and, or, nor), or prepositions, regardless of their length.

“Come to the Water”
To Kill a Mockingbird
The Muppet Movie

8. Capitalize “federal” or “state” when used as part of an official agency name. If they are being used as general terms, do not capitalize.

That is a federal offense.
The State Board of Education has made a decision.
We visited four different states during our vacation.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation belongs to the US Department of Justice.
You must obey all county, state, and federal laws.

You may capitalize words such as “department,” “bureau,” and “office” if you have prepared your text in the following way:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (Bureau) has taken over the investigation. The Bureau is making progress in its investigation and plans to release a statement later today.

9. Do not capitalize names of seasons.

I love autumn colors and spring flowers.

10. Capitalize the first word of a letter’s greeting and the first word of its close.

Dear Ms. Klein,
My dear Mr. Peterson,
To whom it may concern:
Very truly yours,

11. Capitalize words that come from proper nouns, including proper adjectives.

I must take English and math.
Paco is Spanish, Olga is Russian, and Miriam is French.

12. Capitalize the names of specific course titles.

I must take history and Algebra 2. (We do not know which specific history course is required, but Algebra 2 is the name of a specific math course.)

13. Capitalize “I” when it is used as a personal pronoun.

Susan and I always enjoy watching movies.
When I was young, I loved jumping rope.

14. Capitalize days of the week and months of the year.

The semester will end on Thursday, March 27, 2014.

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn to practice. Correct the capitalization in each sentence:

  1. on january 2, 1905, Japanese general nogi received from russian general stoessel a letter formally offering to surrender, ending the russo-japanese war.
  2. on january 5, 1914, henry ford, head of the ford motor company, introduced a minimum wage scale of $5 per day.
  3. on january 13, 1990, douglas wilder of virginia became the nation’s first elected black governor as he took the oath of office in richmond.
  4. on february 7, 1964, the beatles arrived in the united states for the first time.
  5. on april 2, 1917, president woodrow wilson asked congress to declare war against germany, saying, “the world must be made safe for democracy.”
  6. on april 14, 1865, president lincoln was shot and mortally wounded by john wilkes booth while attending the comedy “our american cousin” at ford’s theater in washington, d.c. he died the next day.
  7. on july 29, 1981, britain’s prince charles married lady diana spencer at st. paul’s cathedral in london.
  8. on september 1, 1939, world war ii began as nazi germany invaded poland.
  9. on november 8, 1960, massachusetts senator john f. kennedy defeated vice president richard m. nixon for the presidency.
  10. on december 22, 1864, during the civil war, union general william t. sherman sent a message to president lincoln from georgia, saying, “i beg to present you as a christmas gift the city of savannah.”

All of these history sentences came from The Learning Network (part of The New York Times). You can check your answers and read more about history here.