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Capitalization Rules

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Two female friends using mobile phones
Fabrice LEROUGE/ ONOKY/ Getty Images
This guide to capitalization rules is especially for ESL students. It contains clear explanations for each rule with simple examples of correct sentences. Once you understand these rules, try the capitalization rules quiz to test yourself.

Capitalize the first word of a sentence

Examples:

There is something wrong with this cheese.
Strange things have happened recently.

Capitalize the pronoun "I"

Examples:

He asked me where I had bought my jacket.
If I see her, I will give her your message.

Capitalize proper nouns

Examples:

I visited California on my vacation.
She gave Peter a present for his birthday.

There are many special rules concerning proper nouns. Generally, Proper nouns refer to specific people, places, things, pets, organizations, etc. Remember to always capitalize the name of someone or something. Here are some specific rules to follow:

  • Capitalize North, South, East, and West when contained in the name of a place (state, country, etc.) but not when used for giving directions.

    Correct Examples:

    My friend lives in South Carolina.
    We are planning a vacation in South Africa.

    Incorrect Examples:

    She lives in Southern Europe. SHOULD BE She lives in southern Europe.
    I'm going to visit my friends in Eastern Oregon. SHOULD BE I'm going to visit my friends in eastern Oregon.

  • Capitalize the group name of members of an organization

    Examples:

    The Neighborhood Players are presenting a musical next week.
    Some Washington Democrats would like to see the company up.

  • Capitalize company trademarks (product names)

    Examples:

    My niece loves Converse shoes.
    Do you prefer Siesta or Aloha products?

  • Capitalize common names of periods of time in history

    Examples:

    The Psychedelic Sixties were pretty groovy baby!
    The Dot Com Era lasted far shorter than many people expected.

  • Capitalize specific events

    Examples:

    I went to the Tomato Growers Conference in Salinas last weekend.
    Have you ever attended the Technoland Convergence Festival?

  • Capitalize acronyms which refer to specific names

    Examples:

    I prefer to watch PBS tv whenever possible.
    The ICAM commissioned a study on OBLOG.

  • Common nouns may be capitalized when used as names for the entire class of something.

    Example:

    Some feel that Man is destined for outerspace!

  • Names of gods are capitalized, including Allah, Vishnu, and God. The word god is generally not capitalized if it is used to refer to the generic idea of a deity, nor is it capitalized when it refers to multiple gods.

    Examples:

    Wotan is one of the gods in Wagner's Ring Cycle.
    The paster prayed that God should deliver us from our sins.

Capitalize days of the week, holidays, and months of the year. Do not capitalize seasons.

Correct Examples:

She flew to Dallas in September.
Do you have any time on Monday?

Incorrect Examples:

I love skiing in Winter. SHOULD BE I love skiing in winter.
They visited Bob last Summer. SHOULD BE They visited Bob last summer.

Capitalize countries, languages, and nationalities (adjective form of a specific country)

Examples:

I lived in Italy for over 10 years.
Have you ever had any really expensive French wine?
Do you speak Russian?

Capitalize family relationships when used in place of a name

Examples:

Have you given Mom her present yet?
I think Dad needs some time off work.

Capitalize titles that come before names. Do not capitalize titles that follow names.

Correct Examples:

The soldier wrote to General Smith and asked for advice.
Have you spoken to Vice Principal Smithers yet?

Incorrect Examples:

George Washington was the first President of the United States. SHOULD BE George Washington was the first president of the United States.
Peter Smith was elected Mayor in 1995. SHOULD BE Peter Smith was elected mayor in 1995.

Capitalize letter salutations (openings) and closings

Examples:

Dear Mr. Smith,
Best regards,

Special Capitalization Issues

Capitalize the first word in a quote.

This is true even if the quote occurs in the middle of a sentence.

Examples:

The last time I talked to Peter he said, "Study hard and get to bed early!"
Thomas Patterman was a simple man who said, "Give me life, liberty and a bottle of rum!"

Capitalize content words in titles.

Remember that content words include nouns, pronouns, principal verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.

Examples:

Rainy Days and Mondays
How to Win Friends and Influence your Neighbors

Capitalize the first word in each line of poetry

Roses are red
Violets are blue
I think I said He's in love with you!

Try the capitalization rules quiz to test your understanding.

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