Capitalization Help (page 2)
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.
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:
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.
Modern Rules of Capitalization
Capitalization custom varies among languages. The full rules of capitalization for English are complicated, but they have changed over time, generally to capitalize fewer terms. To the modern reader, an eighteenth-century document seems to use initial capitals excessively. Compared with Old English and English used in the eighteenth century, current capitalization strives to clarify the text. For example, a capital letter signals the beginning of a new thought. Capitals also clarify by distinguishing between common nouns and proper names… and those are just two among many rules! Here are capitalization rules you need to master.
Rules of Capitalization
- Capitalize the first letter of the first word in a sentence.
- Capitalize the pronoun I and the interjection O or Oh.
- Capitalize the first letter of the first word in each new line of poetry if the poet has capitalized it.
- Capitalize the deity, place names, street names, persons' names and initials, organization names, languages, and specific course names.
- Capitalize Mother, Dad, and other titles if you can insert the person's name, and titles like Grandma and Major when they appear with a formal name. If you can replace the "mother/mom" or "father/dad" with the person's formal name, "Mother/Mom" or "Father/Dad" should be capitalized.
Books make a great gift.
I decided to stay home for dinner.
And Oh! that even now the gust were swelling ("Dejection," a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
What is so rare as a day in June?
God in His Universe, Allah, Columbia River, New York City,
New York, Main Street, John T. McMasters, American Red Cross,
Spanish I, Algebra, Modern European History
Mother is really my best friend.
Donna is really my best friend.
If you cannot replace the "mother/mom" or "father/dad" with the person's formal name, then "mother/mom" or "father/dad" should not be capitalized.
My father is really tall.
Fred is really tall.
- Capitalize days, months, holidays, and special days.
- Capitalize historical events, documents, periods, or movements but not the small words that surround them.
- Capitalize names of organizations, businesses, and institutions.
- Capitalize specific places, structures, or geographic locations. Carefully consider the names of places. Capitalize directions that are names (North, South, East, and West when used as sections of the country, but not as compass directions). We capitalize the Middle East and Southeast Asia, because these regions have their own distinctive identity; however, we write central Europe and southeast Rome, because these regions are not thought of as having the same kind of identity. Note, too, the difference between South Africa (the name of a particular country) and southern Africa (a vaguely defined region).
- Capitalize the names of languages, races, and nationalities.
- Capitalize religions and their followers.
- Capitalize religious terms for sacred persons and things.
- Capitalize the Roman numerals and the letters of the first major topics in an outline.
Monday, May, Christmas, New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Day
World War II (not In World War II); Declaration of Independence (not Declaration Of Independence); Magna Carta, Middle Ages, Romantic Movement
The American Red Cross, American Airlines, Providence County Mental Health
The Ku's have moved to the Southwest.
Mac's house is two miles north of Providence.
Turn south at the next corner.
Other examples include:
the Lake District; Newport, RI; Radio City Music Hall; the Northeast; the Midwest
English, Native American, Portuguese
Christianity, Christian; Islam, Muslim; Judaism, Orthodox Jew
Christ, Allah, Buddha, the Bible, and the Koran
I, II, III, A, B, C,
- Capitalize the first word of a direct quotation.
- In a broken quotation, capitalize the first word in the second part of the quotation only if it starts a new sentence.
- Do not capitalize the report of something said.
My son asked, "Will you buy me a guitar for my birthday?"
"I'll start the meeting," she said, "if you will finish it after lunch."
"I'll start the meeting," she said. "You can finish it after lunch." (You starts a new sentence.)
My son asked if I would buy him a guitar for his birthday.
- Capitalize brand names but not products.
- Capitalize titles when they precede proper names, but not when they follow proper names or are used alone.
- Capitalize the titles of books, plays, and films. Do not capitalize the small, unimportant words in those titles.
Dodge, Xerox, Kleenex tissue
Principal Walters, Superintendent Konner
Example: Mr. Walters, principal; Mr. Konner, superintendent
Example: The Secret Life of Bees, Romeo and Juliet
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at: Capitalization Practice
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