Capitalization: Writing Skills Success Study Guide (page 2)

Updated on Aug 25, 2011

Proper Nouns and Proper Adjectives

All proper nouns and proper adjectives—ones that name a specific person, place, or thing—must be capitalized, but remembering which nouns and adjectives are proper can be difficult. The tables that follow lay out the most common categories of proper nouns and adjectives. Each section begins with a table that illustrates five to seven related rules.

Proper Nouns Part One


Proper Nouns Part Two


Proper Nouns Part Three

Proper Adjectives

Proper adjectives are adjectives—that is, words that modify nouns—formed from a proper noun, often the name of a place. For instance, the proper noun Canada becomes the proper adjective Canadian when it modifies another noun, as in Canadian bacon. Note that the noun is not capitalized unless it is a proper noun in its own right.


English muffin, Polish sausage, Japanese yen

When NOT to Capitalize

Putting capital letters where they don't belong is as bad as leaving them out where they do belong. Watch for these capitalization traps.

  • Avoid unnecessarily capitalizing compass directions; however, direction words that refer to a specific area of the country should be capitalized.
  • Avoid unnecessarily capitalizing the words referring to family members. Capitalize them only when they are used as names. If a possessive adjective (my, our, your, his, her, their) comes before the word referring to a family member, the family word is not capitalized.
  • Examples:

      When Uncle Harry visited last winter, none of my other uncles came to see him.
      After my mother called me for lunch, Father served the entree.
  • Avoid unnecessarily capitalizing the seasons of the year or parts of the academic year.
  • Example:

      If the university offers History of Education 405 in the spring semester, Horace can graduate in May.
  • Avoid unnecessarily capitalizing school subjects. They should be capitalized only if they are part of the name of a specific course.
  • Examples:

      I try to avoid math courses because I'm not very good at them.
      Betsy is taking Algebra II and Trigonometry I next semester.
  • Avoid unnecessarily capitalizing words modified by proper adjectives.


    Polish sausage, not Polish Sausage

    Mexican restaurant, not Mexican Restaurant


Find the obituaries in your local newspaper. Examine the capitalization used in the writing. How many of the rules you learned today can you find represented in a single obituary notice?

Exercises for this concept can be found at Capitalization: Writing Skills Success Practice Exercises.

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