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Capitalization Grammar Rules: Grammar Review Study Guide

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Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Capitalization Grammar Rules: Grammar Review Practice Exercises.

What if no one had to follow the same rules or conventions of punctuation and capitalization for written English? It is certain that whatever message the writer means to get across will fall short, if not get lost altogether. Take a look.

when i—go to thanksgiving Dinner at. grandmas house my cousin nathan and I, watch football on my uncles? big screen tv and Cheer on our … favorite teams, later on the Entire family young; and old gathers in the living room, and plays bingo a time! honored custom started "when grandma was a little girl growing" up in st louis mo?

Without the use of standard punctuation and capitalization, you would find that reading the preceding passage is tedious and requires too much time and trouble. If it is rewritten appropriately, however, reading and understanding it be comes effortless.

When I go to Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's house, my cousin Nathan and I watch football on my uncle's big-screen TV and cheer on our favorite teams. Later on, the entire family, young and old, gathers in the living room and plays bingo, a time-honored tradition started when Grandma was a little girl growing up in St. Louis, Missouri.

What a difference!

Capitalization - First Things First

Capitalize the first word of every sentence.

      Take the dog for a walk, please.
      Fifty-two weeks make up one year.

Capitalization signifies the beginning of a sentence. It provides visual separation clues for readers as to when a new sentence begins, which is helpful when several sentences follow one another in a paragraph, as you observed in the preceding passage.

Fuel For Thought

If the first word of a sentence is a number, it should be written out as a word.

When a sentence includes a person's exact words, capitalize the first word of the direct quotation

      Looking wide-eyed at the list of ice cream choices, Anthony said, "There are so many flavors."
      "I'm so hungry, I could eat them all!" exclaimed Anthony's friend, Jason.

… however, do not capitalize the first word of a partial quotation.

"We can have a feast," Alex replied with resolve, "if we order the seven-scoop Kitchen Sink Sundae!"

Capitalize the pronoun I and all contractions made using the word I (I'm, I've, I'll, I'd).

"I'm sure I've never borrowed Alicia's sequined green-and-pink sweater," said Rhonda. "I'll look in my closet, but I think I'd remember wearing something that outlandish."

Capitalize proper nouns.

  • Unlike common, garden-variety nouns, which are general names for people, places, and things (city, building, man, holiday, etc.), proper nouns are specific (New York City, Empire State Building, Thomas Edison, Thanksgiving, etc.) and require capitalization to acknowledge their importance.
  • When referring to a specific person, for example, Mr. James W. Dunlap, Jr., or Dr. Sara E. Mahanirananda, PhD, notice that their initials are capitalized, as are their titles (Mr., Mrs., Miss, Rev., Dr.) and the abbreviations following their names (Jr., Sr., Esq., PhD).
Fuel For Thought

Some nouns may act as both a common and proper noun, depending on how they are used in a sentence. For instance, when used alone, the word governor is a common noun.

The governor took a much-needed vacation after the arduous primaries this fall.

When used before a person's name, however, governor should be capitalized.

When asked where he was headed, Governor Braxton commented that he was looking forward to his two-week reprieve in upstate New York.

This rule also applies to family relationships when a specific person is referred to, except when it follows a possessive noun or possessive pronoun.

I made my grandmother a scarf for her birthday; Aunt Nancy commented on how colorful it was.
Inside Track

The cardinal directions (north, south, east, and west) are not capitalized; however, when you're referring to a specific section of the country, like the Southwest, you capitalize the word.

The seasons (spring, summer, fall, and winter) are not capitalized unless they are being used in the title of something, like Spring Fling.

The names of gods and religious figures are always capitalized except when you are not referring to one specific god, like Roman gods.

Capitalize proper adjectives.

Adjectives modify, or enhance, nouns to tell you more information about the person, place, or thing being described. Sometimes, a proper noun acts like an adjective—for example, April showers, Chinese yo-yo, and English muffin. When proper adjectives refer to a nationality, the suffix -n or -ian is generally added, such as with Victorian era, American flag, and Mexican food.

Capitalize the first word and all key words in titles of books, movies, songs, short stories, works of art, etc. Articles (a, an, the) and the conjunctions so, for, and, but, nor, or, yet are not capitalized, unless they are the first word of the title. Personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, they, them, we, us, etc.) and verbs are always capitalized.

Practice Lap

Practice exercises for this concept can be found at Capitalization Grammar Rules: Grammar Review Practice Exercises.

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