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Section 3. Capitalization

Readers generally expect a capital letter to identify one of two things--the beginning of a sentence or a proper name. Using capitalized letters otherwise only misleads the reader. If you are unsure about whether or not a word should be capitalized, the best rule is not to capitalize it.

a.  Capitalize the first word of every sentence, including quoted sentences.

She said, "The work is finished."

b.  Capitalize the first word of a line of poetry.

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.

--Andrew Marvel, "To His Coy Mistress"

c.  Capitalize words and phrases used as sentences.

Why?
Yes, indeed.
Of course.

d.  Capitalize the first word of a formal question or statement following a colon.

He asked several questions: Where are you going? What will you do? What is your goal?
I offered a word of advice: Read only the best books.

e.  Capitalize the first word of each item in a formal outline.

1.  Sports taught this semester.

A.  Swimming
B.  Softball

f.  Capitalize the first and last word and all other important words in a title.

The Naked and the Dead

g.  Capitalize the first word and all principal words in addresses, salutations, and signatures.

My dearest Son,
Very truly yours,

h.  Capitalize proper nouns and adjectives.

i.  Capitalize nouns indicating relationships only when they are used as names or titles as in combination with proper names. Do not capitalize mother and father when they are preceded by possessive adjectives.

(1)  Proper nouns and proper adjectives. A proper noun is the name of a particular person, place, or thing. A proper adjective is an adjective derived from a proper noun, e.g., American from America.

Eskimo
English
Japanese
Louisa May Alcott

(2)  Specific places. This includes geographic directions when they refer to a specific area, but not points of the compass.

Japan
Atlantic Ocean
Missouri River
The Todd Building
Fairmount Park
the Old South

(3)  Specific organizations.

United Nations
Warsaw Pact
Red Cross
Ace Tire Company

(4)  Days of the week, months, and holidays, but not the seasons.

Monday
October
Veterans Day
Fourth of July
spring
fall

(5)  Religious names.

Allah
God
the Virgin
the Bible
the Lord

(6)  Historical events, periods, and documents.

the Constitution
Battle of Gettysburg
the Middle Ages

(7)  Names of educational institutions, departments, specific courses, and specific academic degrees. This does not mean to capitalize academic disciplines such as mathematics (unless they are proper adjectives like French).

Washboard College
Biology 101
Med

(8)  Names of flags, emblems, and school colors.

Old Glory
Bronze Star
Green and Gold

(9)  Stars and planets.

Earth
the North Star
the Big Dipper
Jupiter

(10)  Ship, trains, aircraft, and spacecraft. Also, names of ships, aircraft and spacecraft are italics.

Titanic
the Crescent Express
City of Los Angeles
Enterprise

(11)  Initials which are used as acronyms.

B.C.
NATO
OK (for Oklahoma)
FBI

(12)  Personifications

Mother Nature
Old Man Winter
the face of Death

(13)  A title preceding a name.

Professor Jane Melton
Chief Justice Burger
Reverend Beliveau

(14)  The interjection O and the pronoun I.

(15)  Military titles standing alone are not capitalized. Capitalize ranks and positions only when they precede names.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 14, 2016