Situations to Use Uppercase or Capital Letters

Do you know when to capitalize words?

There was a time when all kinds of words were capitalized. When we see this old writing, it looks odd, doesn't it?

Many of us still misuse uppercase letters, perhaps capitalizing words to give them importance or emphasis, though it's not correct.

Do you know which words to capitalize to demonstrate a proper grasp of the English language? There are three instances when you need capital letters: proper names, titles and the beginnings of sentences.

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Proper Names

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Proper names are always capitalized. This includes names of people, places, specific things, institutions, organizations, groups, historical periods, historical events, calendar events and deities.

For example:

  • Institutions: Columbia College, the Eastman School of Music
  • Governmental matters: Congress (lowercase congressional), the U.S. Constitution (lowercase constitutional), the Electoral College, Department of Defense, Federal Communications Commission
  • Historical events: the Revolutionary War
  • Holidays
  • Structures: the Twin Towers, the Eiffel Tower
  • Natural and manmade landmarks: Mount Vesuvius, the Hoover Dam
  • Nicknames: Andrew "Old Hickory" Jackson; Bill "Spaceman" Lee
  • Organizations: American Center for Civil Justice
  • Days of the week and months of the year
  • Abbreviations of proper names: CSI, NASA, FEMA
  • Companies: Pillsbury Company, Microsoft
  • Planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth. (When discussing the ground, earth is not capitalized.)
  • Religions and names of deities: Muslim, Jewish. Capitalize the Bible (but lowercase biblical).
  • Races, nationalities and tribes: Caucasian, African American, Eskimo. (Note that white and black in regards to race are lowercase.)
  • Special occasions: the Olympic Games, the Sundance Film Festival
  • Streets and roads: Interstate 44
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Capitalize titles that precede a name, but do not capitalize titles that follow a name: Mayor Stacy White; Stacy White, the mayor

You will see this often with corporate titles. Our tendency is to capitalize all titles. Accounting Manager Martha Grant; Martha Grant, manager of accounting

The titles of books, movies and other works are capitalized except for articles, short conjunctions and short prepositions. Pirates of the Caribbean, When We Were Romans.

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The Beginnings of Sentences

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The first word of every sentence is always capitalized. This is pretty self-explanatory and universally understood.

Capitalize the beginning of a sentence when it is part of a quote. The teacher said, "Your use of uppercase letters is improving."

If  a phrase fits in quotes fits into the larger sentence, it does not require capitalization. For example: The doctor told us that nurse would “be here shortly,” but she never came.

Always use uppercase for the pronoun I and the interjection Oh. However, do not capitalize "oh" unless it begins a sentence.

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Using All Caps

Typing in all capital letters is akin to shouting at someone in person. It's commonly used by online hustlers to try to grab your attention.

Whether you are using email, Twitter or some other online form of communication, shouting in all caps is considered inappropriate and bad netiquette. It also evokes stronger reader emotions. There are exceptions to the rule, though. It's acceptable for subject lines and  headings to appear in all caps.

In fact, a “CapsOff” campaign was launched in 2006 to get the All Caps key permanently removed from keyboards; the organizers calling the key “useless” and a “villain”! Some companies have actually eliminated it: Google took it off its Chromebooks, replacing it with a search key, and Lenovo eliminated it on the Thinkpad.