Spelling and Capitalization Study Guide
In addition to capitalizing words at the beginning of sentences, we capitalize other words only for very specific reasons. This lesson explains the rules for capitalizing words.
THE MOST COMMON use of capitalization is for the first word in a sentence. Other words that must be capitalized are proper nouns, proper adjectives, certain words in titles, and the first word in a direct quotation.
Unlike common nouns—general terms for people, places, or things, like person, store, holiday, hospital, cat—proper nouns are very specific. Examples of proper nouns are Jennifer Aniston (instead of person), Target (instead of store), Thanksgiving (instead of holiday), Memorial Hospital (instead of hospital), and Rex (instead of cat). All proper nouns are capitalized to signify their importance.
When writing about a person, you may often need to include a title (Mr., Ms., Dr.), an abbreviation that follows the name (Jr., Sr., Esq.), or an initial (M. Brian Gibbs, Julia L. Cohen, Aidan H. Walker). All three of these items should always be capitalized.
TIP: Watch out for common overcapitalization errors! Do not capitalize north, south, east, and west (the cardinal directions) and winter, spring, summer, and fall (the four seasons) except when they are the first word of a sentence, when the direction refers to a specific part of the country (as in the Northeast), or when the words are part of a title (as in Winter Ball).
A proper adjective is a proper noun acting like an adjective, providing more information about the person, place, or thing being described. Proper adjectives are always capitalized, for example, French toast, Greek olives, or April showers.
Many of the words in the title of a work such as a book, play, or movie are capitalized. The first word, of course, always requires capitalization. So, too, do all nouns, personal pronouns, verbs, and key words. Articles (such as, a, an, and the), conjunctions (for, so, and, but, nor, or, and yet), and prepositions (to, beyond, under, and so on) are not capitalized. Here are some examples of capitalization in titles.
|Books||The Little Prince|
|Newspapers||The New York Times|
|Short Stories||"The Lottery"|
|Paintings||The Girl with the Pearl Earring|
|Songs||"Mary Had a Little Lamb"|
|Movies||Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist|
TIP: Titles of books, works of art, movies, aircraft, and ships are underlined or italicized. Titles of short stories and songs (works that are often published within other works) are enclosed within quotation marks.
The first word in a direct quotation (a person's exact spoken words) is always capitalized. For example:
At the meeting, John said, "The new routing software has made my job so much easier."
The first word after a quotation mark is not capitalized, however, when the quotation is continued after an interrupter (such as he said or she replied).
"Now," John continued, "our department runs much more smoothly and efficiently."
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
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