Capitalization

If you're stuck on when to use capitalization grammar lessons like these can help. Learn all about capitalization rules here.

Capitalization

Capital letters, also sometimes called uppercased letters, are the taller letters you see when you read. But a letter isn't a capital letter just because it's tall! Every letter of the alphabet has a capital version and a lowercased version. The two versions don't always look the same, as you can see here with the letter A:

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When you capitalize a letter, you're turning it from a lowercased letter into a capital letter. People also talk about capitalizing words, which means to capitalize the first letter of the word. In this lesson, we'll go over the rules that tell you when a word should be capitalized and when it should be lowercased. In general, you should capitalize:

Let's go over these one at a time.

The first letter of a sentence

The first letter of a sentence is always capitalized, no matter what letter it is. For example, let's look at this sentence:

When we make a date, he never shows up!

The letter W in when is capitalized because W is the first letter in the sentence. If the sentence said He never shows up for our dates, the letter H would be capitalized. The first letter of sentences that are included in other sentences are also capitalized, like in this example:

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Here, we've capitalized the M in my because it's the first letter of the entire sentence. We've also capitalized the D in don't because it's the first letter of the sentence the woman's father says.

The letter I

An I by itself refers to a person, so it should be capitalized. For example:

All I want to do is watch ice hockey.

Notice that only the I that appears by itself is capitalized—you don't need to capitalize every I in the sentence.

The I should also be capitalized when I is in a contraction with other words. For instance, the I in I'm is capitalized because I'm is a contraction of I am. I've is a contraction of I have, so I is capitalized there too. What about a contraction like it's? Because the I in it's stands for it, it should be lowercased.

People and place names

The first letters of names are always capitalized. This is true for people's names like Joe and place names like Georgia.

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On this envelope, Dracula Smith's name, street, city, and state are all capitalized. Notice that the words Big, Tooth, and Lane are all capitalized because they are all part of Dracula's street address.

Dates and holidays

Months, days, and holidays should all be capitalized. Let's take a look at this example:

Thanksgiving Day is on the fourth Thursday in November.

In this sentence, Thanksgiving and Day are both capitalized because they are part of a holiday name. (Thanksgiving is also the first word of the sentence). Thursday is the name of a day, and November is the name of a month. If you're not sure whether to capitalize a holiday name, ask yourself if the name would be printed on a calendar. Holiday names that would be printed on calendars should be capitalized.

Unlike dates and holidays, the seasons of the year aren't usually capitalized. You should only capitalize a season if it's part of a specific name, like the Fall semester or the Winter book sale.

Four out of five of the capital letters in this image are correct. Use what you just learned to decide which ones are correct, then click the dots to see if you're right!

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Correct!

The first letter of this word gets capitalized because Thursday is a day of the week. So this capitalization is correct.

Incorrect!

You've found the incorrect capitalization! Since the word winter isn't part of a name here, it shouldn't be capitalized.

Correct!

This word is the part of the holiday's name. So it's correct to capitalize the first letter of Day here.

Correct!

This word is still part of the name of a holiday, so the first letter needs to be capitalized.

Correct!

This word is part of the name of a holiday, so it's correct to capitalize the first letter.

Professional and family titles

A title for a person can be based on someone's job like the word doctor or a family relationship like the word aunt. The first letter of a title should be capitalized if the title is used as part of someone's name. For example, doctor is capitalized if you call someone Doctor Green. If you call someone Aunt Joan, you capitalize the word aunt.

How can you tell if a title is being used as part of a name? First, you can look at the word before the title. When a title comes after the words my, your, his, her, our, their, a, an, or the, the title isn't being used as a name so it shouldn't be capitalized. For example:

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In this sentence, the word captain comes after the word the, so captain is not capitalized. Alternatively, if captain was part of someone's name, like Captain Blake, it would be capitalized. Here's an example:

I always watch Judge Rude's show.

In this sentence, we capitalized judge because it appears with the name Rude. If the sentence said I always watch the judge's show, the word judge wouldn't be capitalized.

What about these sentences?

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Family titles are often used instead of names, like the word Mom in the image above. When you see a family title by itself, you can use our earlier hint and look at the word before the title. In this image, the word dad is not capitalized because the word before it is your. Here's another example:

My mom said she'd come over later.

In this sentence, the word mom comes after the word my, so mom shouldn't be capitalized.

Groups and organizations

When you're writing about an official group, only important words in the group's name should be capitalized. This means we won't capitalize shorter words like and, the, or, in, of, or for. For example, in the band name Dice and Tokens, we only capitalize the words dice and tokens.

The same rule applies to names of organizations like the National Organization for Women and government departments like the Department of Education. In both of these names, important words like education are capitalized. But we've skipped over the shorter words, like for and of.

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Titles of books, songs, and other creative work

Just like in group names, we only capitalize important words in the titles of books, songs, and other types of art. In the image below, only two words in the book title are capitalized: crime and punishment. And isn't an important word, so it's lowercased.

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The only exception to this rule is when the first word of the title isn't important. The first word of art or book title is always capitalized, no matter what the word is. For example, in the movie The Wizard of Oz, the word the is capitalized because it's the first word of the title.

The titles of creative works are usually also italicized, underlined, or put in quotes to show that they're not just part of the sentence. Not everyone agrees on how to format a creative works title correctly, so you should ask your boss or teacher what he or she prefers when you're writing formally.

What about all caps?

A lot of people write in all caps when they e-mail or post comments online. But honestly, it's pretty rude—it's kind of like screaming instead of talking. So you can do it if you're just e-mailing a friend or posting on Facebook (although we still think it's rude). But don't do it if you're writing for school or work!

You don't want your boss to think you're saying this:

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When you really mean this:

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Take our advice: Step away from the caps lock!