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Rules of Capitalisation

Published by at August 17th, 2021 , Revised On November 11, 2021

One of the most important rules of the English language is that the first word of a sentence as well as proper nouns including a specific thing, time, organization, place, or person should start with a capital letter. On the other hand, when we talk about common things of which there are many like cars, planes, you don’t need to capitalize the first letter.

In some cases, you will also need to use capitalisation for the first word after a colon and the first word in a quotation. The rules of capitalization are explained below;

Rules of Capitalisation;

The First Letter in a Sentence

No matter what the first letter of the sentence uses capitalisation. This is perhaps the most basic and easy-to-remember rule of capitalization in English. There are no exceptions. It’s that simple!

Capitalise Don’t capitalize
People Nationalities, names (and words derivative of them), and titles (when used in a name)

  • the project of Minister Marc Miller
  • the Indian dancer
  • the law of Newton
  • the contribution of Sukrat to philosophy
Occupational titles when not used in a name

  • the right-wing minister
  • a high performing project manager
  • the website’s content writer
Places Names of landmarks, shrines, regions, states, cities, countries, and continents should start with a capital letter

  • East Asia
  • the East Coast of England
  • the Taj Mahal
  • the Indus River
  • the United Kingdom
  • Europe
General places and directions

  • The longest canal in the world
  • The north of England
  • The largest monument in the world
Times Specific periods, eras, and historical events that have proper names should be capitalised.

  • Easter
  • the Women’s Day
  • Anglo-Afghan Wars
  • the Medieval Period
  • the first Friday of December
A a 13th century fort
the summer of 69
the people born in the ninetiesgeneral reference to seasons, decades, centuries,

  • a 13th century fort
  • the summer of 69
  • the people born in the nineties
Other
  • Languages
  • Religions
  • Brands
  • Companies
  • Organisations
  • Professional bodies
  • Planets
  • Movies and Books titles
  • Sporting Events
  • Medical conditions
  • Models and theories
  • Metals
  • Minerals
  • Animals
  • Plants
  • a 13th-century fort
  • the summer of 69
  • the people born in the nineties

 

How to Recognise Proper Nouns

A proper noun can be referred to as a specific name, place, thing, or organization. In the English language, it is mandatory to capitalize all the proper nouns as well as the adjectives obtained from them.

David BeckhamEngland’s star footballer, was born in London, scored 20 goals for Real Madrid FC between 2003 and 2007.

On the other hand, a common noun does not refer to a specific object, entity, or individual, and so there is no need to capitalize common nouns unless they are used as a part of a title or the first word of a sentence.

I wish I could remember the name of the professor who recommended me this magazine to. When they refer to specificities, common nouns turn into proper nous.

Commons Nouns Vs Proper Nouns

Here are some examples of common nouns vs proper nouns.

Common Noun Proper Noun
A degree programme at an engineering university Loughborough University’s Mechanical Engineering Department
The cricket playing nations International Cricket Council
A local mosque The Masjid-Al-Haram
The husband Mr. Smith

 

Times, Occasions, Events, and Holidays

Events of historical importance, as well as specific time periods, are proper nouns. Centuries, decades, and periods that are not named in history do not need to be capitalised. Use the lowercase when making a general reference to seasons, decades, and centuries.

  • The Great Depression had a lasting effect on the economy of the world.
  • The Medieval Ages are characterised by a specific mindset of the medieval people.
  • Some of the great scientific advancements took place in the twentieth century.

Religious events, festivals, and holidays must be capitalised.

Months of the year and the days of the week are also proper nouns.

The four seasons, unless used before proper nouns, should be treated as common nouns.

  • Ramadan is a holy month of fasting, introspection, and prayer for Muslims.
  • I will start my new job in the first week of
  • You should never visit Dubai in the

Capitalization of Regions and Directions

If you are referring to general directions – north, south, east, and west, then there is no need to capitalize them.  This rule also includes the adverbs and adjectives obtained from them.

  • My office is located kilometers north of Manchester
  • The army attacked from the southern side of the city.
  • There was a light easterly

However, when a distinctive area is being referred to or when they are used as part of a proper noun, it is compulsory to capitalize them.

  • The Golden Age of Arab Civilisation.
  • A spokesperson for NHS England’s NorthRegion gave a briefing on Covid-19 vaccine distribution.
  • Western Civilisation was discussed in detail in the book.

Depending on the country, a geographical location may or may not need to be considered as a distinctive region.

  • I want to drive from the Lake District up the West Coast of Scotland.
  • The West Coast of the United States includes the States of California, Oregon, and Washington.

It is recommended to consult a dictionary if you are unsure about whether or not to capitalize on a region or area.

Academic Subjects, Models, and Theories

In some instances, you may notice certain academic terms, theories, and models incorrectly capitalized. Only the proper nouns should be capitalized.

  • Schools of thought: constructivism, French
  • Academic subjects: ChineseGerman, sociology, engineering, business, mathematics,
  • Models: Porter’s five forces model, Goleman’sEI performance model.
  • Theories: Darwin’stheory of evolution, Newton’s laws of physics, big bang theory.

The First Word in Quotations

Capitalise the first word when a complete sentence is enclosed in a quote.

John asked, “Can you get me a glass of water.”

When the quote is used in your sentence, there is no need to capitalise the first word.

The receptionist told his manager that the guests would  “be checking in shortly,”  but they never arrived.

Capitalisation after Colons and Semicolons

There is no need to capitalize the first word (if it is not a proper noun) after colons and semicolons when they present a list or a phrase.

She purchased various kitchen accessories and tools: a cutting board, knife, potato peeler, hand mixer and chopper, cups, and spoons.

When a colon or semicolon introduces a complete sentence, then the capitalisation rule varies based on the style guide in use.

For example, the Harvard style guide recommends minimal capitalization. If you are using the Harvard style, do not capitalize the first word after the colon.

On the other hand, the Chicago style suggests that the first word after the colon or the semicolon should be capitalised only if they introduce a further two or more explanatory sentences.

He was intelligent, committed, and hardworking: He was bound to succeed in his field of work. The resulting financial abundance made his long-cherished dreams come true.

But when the semicolon or the colon introduces just a single explanatory sentence, capitalisation is not needed.

He was intelligent, committed, and hardworking: he was bound to succeed in his field of work.

Capitalizing Titles

While there are some differences in the capitalisation rules for movies, books, magazines, articles, research papers, newspapers, and other similar works, some general rules apply across all style guides, including Harvard, MLA APA, and Chicago.  

The following rules apply irrespective of the style guide in use:

The Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Extinction, Afterlife & Retribution is one of my favorite movies.

Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story has a very unique title.

Capitalization in Academic Papers

You have two options for capitalizing headings and subheadings when working on an academic paper such as a thesis or essay. You can either use the title case for all headings and subheadings

For example

3.1 Proposed Research Design

2.6 Impact of Covid-19 on Bamboo Production in China

OR

You can stick to the sentence case – capitalising proper nouns and the first word of the sentence.

For example

3.1 Proposed research design

  1. 6 Impact of Covid-19 on bamboo production in China.

Regardless of the style guide you use, it is important to make sure that you remain consistent with your use of capitalisation throughout the document: the same capitalisation rules must apply to all headings and subheadings.

About Alvin Nicolas

Nicolas has a master's degree in literature and a PhD degree in statistics. He loves to write, cook and run. Nicolas is passionate about helping students at all levels.