Capitalization and Punctuation Study Guide (page 2)
Every sentence begins with a capital, so the how-tos of capitalization seem like a logical place to begin learning about language mechanics. When doing the exercises in this section, refer to the following checklist. Matching your answer to a rule will reinforce the mechanics of writing and secure that knowledge for you.
- The first word of every sentence → Yes, we do carry the matching bed skirt.
- The first word of a quoted sentence (not just a quoted phrase)→And with great flourish, he sang, "O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain!"
- The specific name of a person (and his or her title), a place, or a thing (otherwise known as proper nouns). Proper nouns include specific locations and geographic regions; political, social, and athletic organizations and agencies; historical events; documents and periodicals; nationalities and their languages; religions, their members and their deities; brand or trade names; and holidays.
- The abbreviation for proper nouns. Government agencies are probably the most frequently abbreviated. Remember to capitalize each letter. → The CIA makes me feel very secure.
- Adjectives (descriptive words) derived from proper nouns.
- Ex: America (proper noun) → the American (adjective) flag
- The pronoun I.
- The most important words in a title → Last March, I endured a twenty-hour public reading of A Tale of Two Cities.
- At the end of a declarative sentence (sentence that makes a statement) → Today, I took a walk to nowhere.
- At the end of a command or request → Here's a cloth. Now gently burp the baby on your shoulder.
- At the end of an indirect question → Jane asked if I knew where she had left her keys.
- Before a decimal number → Statisticians claim that the average family raises 2.5 children.
- Between dollars and cents → I remember when $1.50 could buy the coolest stuff.
- After an initial in a person's name → You are Sir James W. Dewault, are you not?
- After an abbreviation → On Jan. 12, I leave for Africa.
- At the end of a question → Why do you look so sad?
- Inside a quotation mark when the quotation is a question → She asked, "Why do you look so sad?"
- At the end of a word, phrase, or sentence filled with emotion → Hurry up! I cannot be late for the meeting!
- Inside a quotation mark when the quotation is an exclamation → The woman yelled, "Hurry up! I cannot be late for the meeting!"
- When directly quoting dialogue, not when paraphrasing → Hamlet says, "To be, or not to be. That is the question."
- For titles of chapters, articles, short stories, poems, songs, or periodicals → My favorite poem is "The Road Not Taken."
- Between two independent clauses (an independent clause is a complete thought. It has a subject and a predicate. See Section 2.) → Edward joined the basketball team; remarkably, the 5´4˝ young man excelled at the sport.
- Between elements in a series that uses commas → The possible dates for the potluck dinner are Thursday, June 5; Saturday, June 7; or Monday, June 9.
- Before a list → Grandma brought Chloe's favorite three sweets: chocolate kisses, Tootsie Rolls, and a Snickers bar.
- Between titles and subtitles → Finding Your Dream Home: A Buyer's Guide.
- Between volumes and page numbers → Marvel Comics 21:24
- Between chapters and verse → Job 4:12
- Between hours and minutes → It's 2:00 A.M.—time to sleep.
- Contractions: A contraction is a combination of two words into one, such as don't (do not) and it's (it is). The apostrophe indicates that some letters have been omitted: do + not = don[o]t; it + is = it[i]s → I can't go with you.
- Possessives: A possessive is a word that shows ownership of some sort. The dog's bowl tells us that the bowl belongs to the dog, and we make dog possessive by adding 's. If we have two dogs, however, we already have an s to indicate that there is more than one dog (plural). If the two dogs own the bowl, we make it possessive by adding an apostrophe after the s: the dogs' bowl → This is Mike's house. These are the students' desks.
- Exception: The one exception to the above rules is its and it's. The apostrophe in it's indicates a contraction of it is. To make it possessive, therefore, we do not use an apostrophe: its bowl → I think it's (it is) going to rain. The dog ate from its (possessive) bowl.
- Between items in dates and addresses → Michael arrived at Ellis Island, New York, on February 14, 1924.
- Between words in a list → The university hired a woman to direct the Bursar's, Financial Aid, and Registrar's offices.
- Between equally important adjectives (be careful not to separate adjectives that describe each other) → The reporter spoke with several intense, talented high school athletes.
- After words that precede a direct quotation → David whined, "I am famished."
- In a quotation that precedes a tag and is not a question or an exclamation → "I am famished," whined David.
- Around nonessential clauses, parenthetical phrases, and appositives. (A nonessential or nonrestrictive clause is a word or group of words that is not necessary for the sentence's completion; a parenthetical phrase interrupts the flow of a sentence; and an appositive is a word or group of words that renames the preceding noun) → Matt's mother, Janie (appositive), who has trouble with directions (nonessential clause), had to ask for help.
- Before or after a dependent clause. → We checked our luggage (independent clause), hoping for the best (dependent clause).
- Before conjunctions. (Conjunctions are words that link two independent clauses together) → Drew wanted to experience ballroom dancing before his wedding, so he signed up for lessons at a local hall.
Practice exercises for these concepts can be found at: Capitalization and Punctuation Practice Exercises
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