Capital Letters

monday chuckAh, capital letters! Do you ever wonder who first decided that letters had shapes and sizes, and there should be rules about them?

Apparently, it all started with capital letters; lower-case letters came later. There’s a short article here if you want to learn more.

Capital letters are the larger-sized letters, meant to make a word stand out. Capital letters give words presence, size, importance.

Every grammar program in every language has rules for using capital letters, and since I’m American, my rules might be a little different from the ones you’re used to. But there are still a few basic ones that I think are universal, or close to that, at least for English.

We normally capitalize:
1.  The first word of each sentence.

2.  An expression used as a sentence. (Really? No! Yes!)

3.  Proper nouns (words that name specific things).

the Eiffel Tower
the Opera House in Sydney
the Taj Mahal

4.  A quoted sentence.
I heard Mrs. Mack say, “Please call me later.”

5.  The first word of each line item in a list.

6.  The salutation and closing of a letter.
Dear Sir:

7.  People’s names, unless a person has changed his or her name and no longer uses the capital letter.

8.  Titles, when they come in front of a name.
Mayor Marty Smith
Dr. Jones

9.  The word I.


We normally do NOT capitalize generic nouns such as doctor, teacher, professor, senator.

Do you have a good doctor to recommend?
Is your senator someone you voted for?
Which professor at the college teaches the best English class?

Now, is this comprehensive list? Heck, no. There are 30 pages on this topic in the grammar book that I have used for 20+ years — The Gregg Reference Manual. Why this particular book? Because it is intended for the business community, and it gives loads and loads of great examples, which is how most of us learn. The 2010 edition has over 700 pages! The book used to get updated every three or four years; sadly, the 2010 Tribute Edition is the last one, so far. Bill Sabin, the author, died in 2009. I don’t know if anyone else will decide to go forward with it.