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Arts & Letters Daily


Grammar Tutorial – Capitalization

Before I list a bunch of capitalization rules, let me explain how capitalization came about in England … hopefully that might help you to deal with your frustrations somewhat. Languages change very slowly; so I will describe the changes in capitalizing words that took place over several hundred years (centuries).
In the 1500’s, capital letters were used at the beginning of every sentence, with proper names, and with important common nouns. In the 1600’s, this practice was extended to titles (Sir, Lady) and forms of address (Father). By the 1700’s, some writers were using a capital for any noun that they felt was important. As a result, all or most common and proper nouns were given an initial capital.
This is what it would look like:
Douglas Bader loved to fly, loved his Country and loved a Challenge. Though he lost both Legs in a Plane crash in 1931, Bader refused to be defeated. As a Youth, Bader excelled at Cricket and Rugby. He also won a Scholarship to the Royal Air Force College, where he became the best Pilot in his Class.
However in the later 1700’s, English specialists (grammarians) felt there should be specific rules for capitalization and not this free-for-all. They felt that capitalizing any and all nouns was unnecessary clutter. Hence, they made rules that greatly reduced the use of capitalization. The change makes the paragraph about Douglas Bader look like this:
Douglas Bader loved to fly, loved his country and loved a challenge. Though he lost both legs in a plane crash in 1931, Bader refused to be defeated. As a youth, Bader excelled at cricket and rugby. He also won a scholarship to the Royal Air Force College, where he became the best pilot in his class.
So what are the capitalization rules today? The most general rule is: common nouns are not capitalized and proper nouns are capitalized.
Here are the most common rules for capitalizing proper nouns.
Rule 1. Capitalize the first word in a sentence.
Example: The books are on the table.
Rule 2. Capitalize important words in a title.
Example: The Magic School Bus.
Rule 3. Capitalize specific people’s names.
Example: The author is Joanna Cole.
Rule 4. Capitalize names of specific things.
Example: The Empire State Building is in New York.
Rule 5. Capitalize names of places and regions.
Example: The city of Chicago is in state of Illinois.
Rule 6. Capitalize names of the days of the week, months and holidays.
Examples: Today is Friday, June 24, 2002.
Thanksgiving is a holiday celebrated in November.
Rule 7. Capitalize names of historic periods, events and documents.
Examples: The Olympic Games take place every four years.
The Battle of Gettysburg is well documented in history.
Rule 8. Capitalize names of race, ethnic groups, nationalities and languages.
Examples: The Latin language is no longer spoken.
The British and the Americans are allies.
Rule 9. Capitalize names of religions and their followers, sacred books and figures.
Example: Muslims study the Koran and Christians study the Bible.
I suggest that you make a poster with these 9 rules and post it till you have them memorized. Don’t worry about following these rules while you are writing your story or essay. Apply the rules when you edit what you have written.
Try the following activities to find out how well you understand how to capitalize nouns:
After you have watched this Lesson, go to, for the NOTES, ASSIGNMENT and ANSWER KEY on CAPITALIZATION.
Go to GRAMMAR in the top navigation bar and go to CAPITALIZATION – click on it.
To send any questions you may have about grammar, go to and click on ASK Dr. OTTO. I will reply to your questions as quickly as possible.