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Capitalization Help

By — McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Sep 13, 2011

Brief History of the Alphabet and Capitalization

Many, many years ago, a sentence may have been written without any spacing or punctuation, and with capitals or lowercase letters. The Romans might also have written it in the following way, using capitals as the first letter of every word. Neither way makes the meaning of the sentence accessible to the reader.

    GoBackManyYearsToTheGreeksAndRomansThisIsWhatYouMightHaveRead

Now we can look at the importance of capital letters for clarity.

But first, here's a bit of history about the alphabet. Thousands of years ago, people used drawings to tell their life stories. For example, early drawings, or hieroglyphs, were drawn to show that people fought and were brave in war. Other drawings showed the hunting they did. But drawing couldn't express everything.

For example, these early communicators could easily draw a picture of an animal, a spear, a fish, or a cave. But they couldn't draw pictures of concepts such as love, hate, or loyalty. Eventually, they couldn't remember all the pictures. There were just too many of them.

Then about 3,500 years ago, the root of the alphabet was first conceived of by the Semites, who invented twenty-two sound symbols for their language, ancestor of both Hebrew and Arabic. Before long, the Phoenicians also began to use the same symbols. Because they were sea merchants who sailed to many parts of the world, the Phoenicians spread this writing system to people of other nations. The Greeks added two more letters, and the Romans used the twenty-four alphabet letters.

By the time the Roman Empire reached its peak, the alphabet was established in the following way. Notice the missing letters:

    ABCDEFGHIKLMNOPQRSTVXYZ

Romans dominated Europe, so it was logical that the Roman alphabet would become the standard alphabet throughout Western Europe and eventually throughout the Western world.

The Romans also changed the alphabet a bit and brought it to England. Since then, people in many countries have used the English alphabet of twenty-six letters. In fact, from the seventeenth century on, the English alphabet has contained the same twenty-six letters we use now. This was such a huge accomplishment that many consider the alphabet to be one of the most important inventions in the history of the world.

Lowercase letters were introduced in manuscript writing in the Middle Ages. This change from all capital letters to small letters was influenced by the nature of the writing material—the difficulty of writing the large, angular letters with a pen on expensive papyrus, parchment, and later paper. Manuscript writers loved lowercase letters because they could be written faster. From the reader's standpoint, it was much easier to read.

Today, the languages that use the Latin alphabet generally use capital letters to begin sentences and to indicate proper nouns. The rules for capitalization have changed significantly over time, and different languages have varied the rules of capitalization. Old English, for example, was rarely written with even proper nouns capitalized; whereas Modern English of the eighteenth century frequently capitalized all nouns:

Old English: my aunt jane takes the kids by bus to toy outlet to choose some treats.

Eighteenth-century Modern English: My Aunt Jane takes the Kids by Bus to Toy Outlet to choose some Treats.

Twenty-first-century English: My Aunt Jane takes the kids by bus to Toy Outlet to choose some treats.

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