Capitalization errors can be fairly obvious, but other times, not so much. I have friends and family members that are the creative types, which is wonderful, but they struggle with grammar, including capitalization rules. They’re great at writing but rely on others to identify and fix grammatical errors. It is a gift for some of us to recognize and remember all of the rules. I do have a good memory, but it is also handy to have a style guide, such as the Chicago Manual of Style, around for reference.
Capitalization is important because it helps readers understand what the author is trying to convey. A writer can be creative all day long, but if they don’t have a good proofreader, their writing could be misunderstood–or not understood at all!
Here are some common errors that even the most savvy get confused from time to time:
Titles of Work:
- The first letter of a title should always be capitalized, even if it’s a preposition.
- Don’t forget to capitalize verbs in titles. This is commonly missed in titles! Example: The Author Who Is Searching for a Book
- Don’t capitalize any of the other prepositions in a title; see above example.
For example, the title of this blog post is incorrectly capitalized. If you know your rules, your eyes are probably bugging out right now. If you love capitalizing words just to put emphasis on them, then you might not notice all of the errors. (As a side note, some of us in the business world construe all caps as “yelling”, which is not always what the writer is trying to do.) Likewise, if you’re like some of my younger students or employees, you rely on text messaging or social media style and don’t sweat the capitalization at all.
How the title of this blog post should look:
Why Capitalization Matters
Titles of People:
Only capitalize titles of people if the title is directly in front of the person’s name (and not separated by a comma) or if the title is in place of the person’s name.
Example of using a title for a person:
- Dawn Palmer, professor
- Professor Dawn Palmer
- The professor, Dawn Palmer, wrote an article.
Words after Quotation Marks or a Colon:
- Capitalize the first letter of a direct quote or following a colon if the quote or words following a colon form a complete sentence. Examples: The zookeeper said, “I washed the bear and fed the toucan.” He provided examples of his work: All of the animals at the zoo were happy, including the bears and toucans.
- Don’t capitalize the first letter after a colon or a quote when it is not followed by a complete sentence. Example: She is such a critic about grammar, including: capitalization, spelling, and punctuation. She said she is a “wordsmith”.
Courses and Departments:
- Capitalize specific courses and departments. Example: She registered for Organic Chemistry.
- Don’t capitalize general courses or departments. Example: I would like to work in marketing, but I used to teach biology.
This area can be tricky, and you can feel like you just stepped off into the deep end, especially if you rely on text messaging for your mode of communication. (My high school students were always writing all of their words on assignments and tests in lowercase, even the personal pronoun “I”, just like when they texted.) Having written a blog or two, I also see authors regularly confuse capitalization of family names, such as “mom” or “dad”, and the names of seasons. Here are some common rules:
- Always capitalize the personal pronoun “I“.
- Capitalize brand names such as WordPress or Google.
- Don’t capitalize seasons or directions. Example: I love taking photographs of flowers in the spring.
- Capitalize geographic locations (cities, counties, states, countries) and specific regions. Example: I live in the Southwest, but I will travel north to Oregon to see the mountains.
- Don’t capitalize the word “city” unless it is part of the name of the city. Example: I want to visit New York City, but I do not want to go to the city of Miami.
- Don’t capitalize generic family names, unless it is being used in place of someone’s given name. Example: Go to Grandma’s house, but if her neighbor’s aunt is there, don’t stay long.
- Capitalize days of the week, months, holidays, historical events, periods, and eras, but not centuries: Examples: I like posting intriguing photos on Wednesdays and will title it “Wordless Wednesdays”. Not everyone will read my blog this century, but they might read it in the twenty-second century.
- Capitalize proper nouns; when in doubt, check the dictionary. Example: John ran the Boston Marathon on Sunday after visiting New York City on Thursday.
Following these simple guidelines will help you get on your way quickly, but if not, no worries! Just let me know how I can help you with proofreading. At the end of the day, with the right help, everything will come out all rainbows.