Writing a word using an uppercase letter for only the first letter of the word
The capital letter "A" in the Latin alphabet followed by its lowercase equivalent, in sans serif and seriftypefaces, respectively
Capitalization (American English) or capitalisation (British English) is writing a word with its first letter as a capital letter (uppercase letter) and the remaining letters in lower case, in writing systems with a case distinction. The term also may refer to the choice of the casing applied to text.
The full rules of capitalization in English are complicated. The rules have also changed over time, generally to capitalize fewer words. The conventions used in an 18th-century document will be unfamiliar to a modern reader; for instance, many common nouns were capitalized.
The systematic use of capitalized and uncapitalized words in running text is called "mixed case".
Parts of speech
Owing to the essentially arbitrary nature of orthographic classification and the existence of variant authorities and local house styles, questionable capitalization of words is not uncommon, even in respected newspapers and magazines. Most publishers require consistency, at least within the same document, in applying a specified standard: this is described as "house style".
In English, the subjective form of the singular first-person pronoun, "I", is capitalized, along with all its contractions such as I'll and I'm. Objective and possessive forms "me", "my", and "mine" are not.
Many European languages traditionally capitalize nouns and pronouns used to refer to God, including references to Jesus Christ (reverential capitals): hallowed be Thy name, look what He has done. Some English authors capitalize any word referring to God: the Lamb, the Almighty; some capitalize "Thy Name". These practices have become much less common in English in the 20th and 21st centuries.
In German, the formal 2nd-person plural pronoun Sie is capitalized along with all its case-forms (Ihre, Ihres, etc.), but these words are not capitalized when used as 3rd-person feminine singular or plural pronouns. Until the recent German spelling reform(s), the traditional rules (which are still widely adhered to, although not taught in schools) also capitalized the informal 2nd-person singular pronoun Du (and its derivatives, such as Dein) when used in letters or similar texts, but this is no longer required.
Italian also capitalizes its formal pronouns, Lei and Loro, and their cases (even within words, e.g. arrivederLa "goodbye", formal). This is occasionally also done for the DutchU, though this is formally only required when referring to a deity and may be considered archaic.
In Spanish, the abbreviations of the pronouns usted and ustedes, Ud., Uds., Vd., and Vds., are usually written with a capital.
In Finnish, the second-person plural pronoun can be used when formally addressing a single person, and in writing the pronoun is sometimes capitalized as Te to indicate special regard. In a more familiar tone, one can also capitalize the second-person singular pronoun Sinä.
Similarly, in Russian the formal second-person pronoun Вы, and its oblique casesВас, Вам etc., are capitalized (usually in personal correspondence); also in Bulgarian.
Slovenian, Croatian, Serbian capitalize the formal second-person pronoun Vi along with its oblique cases (Vas, Vam, Vami) and personal pronoun (Vaš etc.) in formal correspondence. Historically, the familiar second-person pronoun ti and its cases (tebe, tebi, teboj) were capitalized as well, but new orthography prohibits such use.
In Danish, the plural second-person pronoun, I, is capitalized, but its other forms jer and jeres are not. This distinguishes it from the preposition i ("in"). The formal second-person pronoun is also capitalized in all its forms (De, Dem, Deres), distinguishing it from the otherwise identical third-person plural pronouns.
In Norwegian, both second-person singular and plural have a capitalized alternative form (De, Dem, Deres in Bokmål; De, Dykk, Dykkar in Nynorsk) to express formality for both subject and object of a sentence, but is very rarely used in modern speech and writing.
In formally written Polish, Czech, Slovak and Latvian, most notably in letters and e-mails, all pronouns referring to the addressee are capitalized. This includes Ty ("thou") and all its related forms such as Twój and Ciebie. This principle extends to nouns used formally to address the addressee of a letter, such as Pan ("sir") and Pani ("madam").
In Indonesian, capitalizing the formal second-person pronoun Anda along with all references to the addressee, such as "(kepada) Bapak/Ibu" ((to) Sir/Madam), is required in practice of Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (Perfected Orthography). However, some people do not know of or choose not to adhere to this spelling rule. In contrast, Malay orthography used in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei does not require the capitalization of anda.
In Tagalog and its standard form, Filipino, the formal second-person pronouns Kayo and Ninyo and their oblique form Inyo are customarily and reverentially capitalized as such, particularly in most digital and printed media related to religion and its references. Purists who consider this rule as nonstandard and inconsistent do not apply it when writing.
In Tajik, capitalization is used to distinguish the second-person formal pronoun Шумо from the second-person plural pronoun шумо.
In Swedish, since du-reformen, the second-person singular pronoun du may be capitalized as Du when addressed formally.
Sometimes, the article is integral to the name, and thus is capitalized (as in Den Haag, Le Havre). However, in French this does not occur for contractions du and au (as in Je viens du Havre, "I come from Le Havre"). In other European languages, it is much more common for the article to be treated as integral to the name, but it may not be capitalized (die Schweiz, les Pays-Bas, yr Almaen, etc.).
A few English names are written with two lowercase "f"s: ffrench, ffoulkes, etc. This originated as a variant script for capital F.
A few individuals have chosen not to use capitals in their names, such as k.d. lang and bell hooks. E. E. Cummings, whose name is often written without capitals, did not do so himself: the usage derives from the typography used on the cover of one of his books.
In English, the names of days of the week, months and languages are capitalized, as are demonyms like Englishman, Arab. In other languages, practice varies, but most languages other than German (which capitalizes all nouns) do not.
In English-language addresses, the noun following the proper name of a street is capitalized, whether or not it is abbreviated: Main Street, Fleming Ave., Montgomery Blvd. This capitalization is often absent in older citations and in combined usages: Fourth and Main streets. In French, street names are capitalized when they are proper names; the noun itself (rue, place) is normally not capitalized: rue de Rivoli, place de la Concorde.
In Italian the name of a particular concept or object is capitalized when the writer wants to emphasize its importance and significance.
Controversially, some authors capitalize common names of some animal and plant species. As a general rule, names are not capitalized, unless they are part of an official list of names, in which case they have become proper nouns and are capitalized. This is most common for birds and fishes. Names referring to more than one species (e.g., horse or cat) are always in lower case. Botanists generally do not capitalize the common names of plants, though individual words in plant names may be capitalized for another reason: (Italian stone pine). See the discussion of official common names under common name for an explanation.
Common nouns may be capitalized when used as names for the entire class of such things, e.g. what a piece of work is Man. French often capitalizes such nouns as l'État (the state) and l'Église (the church) when not referring to specific ones.
Names by which gods are known are capitalized, including God, Athena, and Vishnu. The word god is generally not capitalized if it is used to refer to the generic idea of a deity, nor is it capitalized when it refers to multiple gods, e.g. Roman gods. There may be some confusion because Judaism, Christianity, and Islam rarely refer to the Deity by a specific name, but simply as God (see Writing divine names). Other names for the God of these three Abrahamic faiths, such as Elohim, Yahweh, and Lord, are also capitalized.
While acronyms have historically been written in all-caps, British usage is moving towards capitalizing only the first letter in cases when these are pronounced as words (e.g. Unesco and Nato), reserving all-caps for initialisms (e.g. UK, USA, UNHCR).
In legal English, defined terms that refer to a specific entity, such as "Tenant" and "Lessor", are often capitalized. More specifically, in legal documents, terms which are formally defined elsewhere in the document or a related document (often in a schedule of definitions) are capitalized to indicate that that is the case, and may be several words long, e.g. "the Second Subsidiary Claimant", "the Agreed Conditional Release Date".
In contracts, particularly important clauses are often typeset as all-caps
Most English honorifics and titles of persons, e.g. Sir, Dr Watson, Mrs Jones, His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh. This does not apply where the words are not titles; e.g. Watson is a doctor, Philip is a duke.
In very formal British English the Queen is referred to as The Queen.
The governing body of English solicitors is correctly referred to as The Law Society. (In general any organisation may choose a name starting with a capitalized "The".)
In English, adjectives derived from proper nouns (except the names of characters in fictional works) usually retain their capitalization: e.g. a Christian church, Canadian whisky, a Shakespearean sonnet, but not a quixotic mission nor malapropism. Where the original capital is no longer at the beginning of the word, usage varies: anti-Christian, and either Presocratic, pre-Socratic, Pre-Socratic or presocratic. Never preSocratic – a hyphen must precede a capital in a compound word.
Such adjectives do not receive capitals in French (socratique, présocratique), Spanish (socrático, presocrático), Swedish (sokratisk, försokratisk), Polish (sokratejski, presokratejski) nor partly in German (sokratisch, präsokratisch, but Ohm'sches Gesetz ("Ohm's Law")). In German, if the adjective becomes a noun by using an article or numeral in front of it (das/die Bunte (the colorful thing(s)), eine Schöne (a beautiful one)), it is capitalized like any other noun, as are nouns formed from proper nouns (der Urgoethe). The same applies to verbs (das Laufen (the (practice of) running), das Spazierengehen (the (practice of) going for a walk)).
Adjectives referring to nationality or ethnicity are not capitalized in German, French or Czech, even though nouns are: ein kanadisches Schiff, un navire canadien, kanadská loď, a Canadian ship; ein Kanadier, un Canadien, Kanaďan, a Canadian. Both nouns and adjectives are capitalized in English when referring to nationality or ethnicity.
The capitalization of geographic terms in English text generally depends on whether the author perceives the term as a proper noun, in which case it is capitalized, or as a combination of an established proper noun with a normal adjective or noun, in which case the latter are not capitalized. There are no universally agreed lists of English geographic terms which are considered as proper nouns. The following are examples of rules that some[which?] British and U.S. publishers have established in style guides for their authors:
Lower case: western China, southern Beijing, western Mongolia, eastern Africa, northern North Korea, the central Gobi, the lower Yangtze River.
When a term is used as a name and then subsequently a shorter term is used, then that shorter term may be used generically. If that is the case do not capitalize. ("The Tatra National Park is a tourist destination in Poland. Watch out for bears when visiting the national park.")
In all modern European languages, the first word in a sentence is capitalized, as is the first word in any quoted sentence. (For example, in English: Nana said, "There are ripe watermelons in the garden!")
The first word of a sentence is not capitalized in most modern editions of ancient Greek and, to a lesser extent, Latin texts. The distinction between lower and upper case was not introduced before the Middle Ages; in antiquity only the capital forms of letters were used.
For some items, many style guides recommend that initial capitalization be avoided by not putting the item at the beginning of a sentence, or by writing it in lowercase even at the beginning of a sentence. Such scientific terms have their own rules about capitalization which take precedence over the standard initial capitalization rule. For example, pH would be liable to cause confusion if written PH, and initial m and M may even have different meanings, milli and mega, for example 2 MA (megamperes) is a billion times 2 mA (milliamperes). Increasingly nowadays, some trademarks and company names start with a lowercase letter, and similar considerations apply.
When the first letters of a word have been omitted and replaced by an apostrophe, the first letter in a sentence is usually left uncapitalized in English and certain other languages, as "'tis a shame ..." In Dutch, the second word is capitalized instead in this situation: "'t Was leuk" vs. "Het was leuk" (both meaning "It was fun").
Traditionally, the first words of a line of verse are capitalized in English, e.g.: Meanwhile, the winged Heralds, by command Of sovereign power, with awful ceremony And trumpet's sound, throughout the host proclaim A solemn council forthwith to be held At Pandemonium, the high capital Of Satan and his peers. [...] (Milton, Paradise Lost I:752–756)
In the U.S., headlines and titles of works typically use title case, in which certain words (such as nouns, adjectives and verbs) are capitalized and others (such as prepositions and conjunctions) are not.
Names of capitalization styles
The following names are given to systems of capitalization:
"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." The standard case used in English prose. Generally equivalent to the baseline universal standard of formal English orthography mentioned above; that is, only the first word is capitalized, except for proper nouns and other words which are generally capitalized by a more specific rule.
A variation is mid-sentence case which is identical to sentence case except that the first word isn't capitalized (unless it would be capitalized by another rule). This type of letter case is used for entries in dictionaries.
"The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy Dog." Also known as headline style and capital case. All words capitalized, except for certain subsets defined by rules that are not universally standardized, often minor words such as "the" (as above), "of", or "and". Other commonly lowercase words are prepositions and coordinating conjunctions. The standardization is only at the level of house styles and individual style manuals. (See Headings and publication titles.) A simplified variant is start case, where all words, including articles, prepositions, and conjunctions, start with a capital letter.
"THE QUICK BROWN FOX JUMPS OVER THE LAZY DOG." Also known/written as "all-caps". Capital letters only. This style can be used for headlines and book or chapter titles at the top of a book page. It is commonly used in transcribed speech to indicate that a person is shouting, or to indicate a hectoring and obnoxious speaker. For this reason, it is generally discouraged. Long spans of Latin-alphabet text in all uppercase are harder to read because of the absence of the ascenders and descenders found in lowercase letters, which can aid recognition. In professional documents, a commonly preferred alternative to all–caps text is the use of small caps to emphasize key names or acronyms, or the use of italics or (more rarely) bold. In addition, if all–caps must be used, it is customary in headings of a few words to slightly widen the spacing between the letters, by around 10% of the point height. This practice is known as tracking or letterspacing.
Compound names are nouns that are made up of more than one stem, or a stem and one or more affixes.[a]
Names that are made up of several affixes and one or more nouns are not compound names under this definition, but noun phrases, that are made up of one or more separable affixes, and one or more nouns. Examples of the separable affixes may be found in List of family name affixes. [b] Noun phrases are in this context treated as if they were nouns. So the general rule that nouns-as-names are capitalized in principle applies to compound names and noun-phrases-as-names as well. There are, however, exceptions to this rule that differ by language community.
In German, the separable affix, and at the same time preposition, von (meaning "of", pronounced [fɔn]) or genannt (meaning "named") in a surname (e.g. Alexander von Humboldt) is not capitalized (unless it is the first letter of a sentence). Von is however often dropped within a sentence. The same applies to similar Italian and Portuguese affixes. [c]
In Dutch, the first affix, like van; or de, or declensions of de; or contractions of a preposition and an article, like ter; in a surname are capitalized unless a given name, initial, or other family name[d] precedes it[e]. Other affixes in the noun phrase (if present) are left lowercase. [f] However, in Belgium the capitalization of a surname follows the orthography as used for the person's name in the Belgian population register and on his or her identification card., except when introducing a title of nobility or when use of the lower case has been granted to some noble family. An exception for the rule that a Dutch name starts with an uppercase letter under all circumstances (including at the start of a sentence) is included in the general capitalization rule: "If the sentence begins with an apostrophe, the following full word is capitalized."[g] This also applies to Dutch names that begin with a contraction that consists of an apostrophe and a letter. [h]
In English, practice varies when the name starts with a particle[i] with a meaning such as "from" or "the" or "son of".
Some of these particles (Mac, Mc, M, O) are always capitalized; others (L', Van) are usually capitalized; still others often are not (d', de, di, von). The compound particle de La is usually written with the L capitalized but not the d.[j]
The remaining part of such a name, following the particle, is always capitalized if it is set off with a space as a separate word, or if the particle was not capitalized. It is normally capitalized if the particle is Mc, M, or O. In other cases (including Mac), there is no set rule (both Macintyre and MacIntyre are seen, for example).
Americans with non-Anglophone surnames often have not followed the orthographic conventions usual in the language communities of their extraction (or the US immigration authorities flouted the orthographic rules for them when they arrived at ports of entry like Ellis Island)[k]. These idiosyncratic spellings and capitalizations should be accepted with equanimity and not "corrected." As there are no universally accepted capitalization rules in these circumstances to serve as a guideline the best policy would seem to be to use the style that dominates for that person in reliable sources; for a living subject, prefer the spelling consistently used in the subject's own publications.
The Chicago Manual of Style recommends that the titles of English-language artistic works (plays, novels, essays, paintings, etc.) capitalize the first word and the last word in the title. Additionally, most other words within a title are capitalized as well; articles and coordinating conjunctions are not capitalized. Sources disagree on the details of capitalizing prepositions. For example, the Chicago Manual of Style recommends rendering all prepositions in lowercase, whereas the APA style guide instructs: Capitalize major words in titles of books and articles within the body of the paper. Conjunctions, articles, and short prepositions are not considered major words; however, capitalize all words of four letters or more.
In other languages, such as the Romance languages, only the first word and proper names are capitalized.
Acronyms are usually capitalized, with a few exceptions:
Acronyms which have become regular words such as laser and scuba.
The English vocativeparticleO, an archaic form of address, e.g. Thou, O king, art a king of kings. However, lowercase o is also occasionally seen in this context.
In most languages that use diacritics, these are treated the same way in uppercase whether the text is capitalized or all-uppercase. They may be always preserved (as in German) or always omitted (as in Greek) or often omitted (as in French). Some attribute this to the fact that diacritics on capital letters were not available earlier on typewriters, and it is now becoming more common to preserve them in French and Spanish (in both languages the rule is to preserve them, although in France and Mexico, for instance, schoolchildren are often erroneously taught that they should not add diacritics on capital letters).
However, in the polytonic orthography used for Greek prior to 1982, accents were omitted in all-uppercase words, but kept as part of an uppercase initial (written before rather than above the letter). The latter situation is provided for by title-case characters in Unicode. When Greek is written with the present day monotonic orthography, where only the acute accent is used, the same rule is applied. The accent is omitted in all-uppercase words but it is kept as part of an uppercase initial (written before the letter rather than above it). The dialytika (diaeresis) should also always be used in all-uppercase words (even in cases where they are not needed when writing in lowercase, e.g. ΑΫΛΟΣ — άυλος).
Digraphs and ligatures
Some languages treat certain digraphs as single letters for the purpose of collation. In general, where one such is formed as a ligature, the corresponding uppercase form is used in capitalization; where it is written as two separate characters, only the first will be capitalized. Thus Oedipus or Œdipus are both correct, but OEdipus is not. Examples with ligature include Ærøskøbing in Danish, where Æ/æ is a completely separate letter rather than merely a typographic ligature (the same applies in Icelandic); examples with separate characters are Llanelli in Welsh, where Ll is a single letter; and Ffrangeg in Welsh where Ff is equivalent to English F (whereas Welsh F corresponds to English V). Presentation forms, however, can use doubled capitals, such as the logo of the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru). The position in Hungarian is similar to the latter.
An exception is the Dutch digraph IJ. Both letters are capitalized even though they are printed separately when using a computer, as in IJsselmeer. In the past the digraph was written as Y, and this still survives in some surnames.
A converse exception exists in the Croatian alphabet, where digraph letters (Dž, Lj, Nj) have mixed-case forms even when written as ligatures. With typewriters and computers, these "title-case" forms have become less common than 2-character equivalents; nevertheless they can be represented as single title-case characters in Unicode (ǅ, ǈ, ǋ).
In Czech the digraph ch (usually considered as a single letter) can be capitalized in two ways: Ch or CH. In general only the first part is capitalized (Ch), unless the whole text is written in capital letters (then it is written CH). In acronyms both parts are usually capitalized, such as VŠCHT for Vysoká škola chemicko-technologická (University of Chemistry and Technology). However, the practice is not unified when writing initial letters of personal names (first name and surname), for example Jan Chudoba can be abbreviated both J. Ch. or J. CH.
In languages where inflected forms of a word may have extra letters at the start, the capitalized letter may be the initial of the root form rather than the inflected form. For example, in Irish, in the placename Sliabh na mBan, "(the) mountain of the women" (anglicized as Slievenamon), the word-form written mBan contains the genitive plural of the noun bean, "woman", mutated after the genitive plural definite article (i.e., "of the"). The written B is mute in this form.
Other languages may capitalize the initial letter of the orthographic word, even if it is not present in the base, as with definite nouns in Maltese that start with certain consonant clusters. For example, l-Istati Uniti (the United States) capitalize the epenthetic I, even though the base form of the word — without the definite article — is stati.
Case-sensitive English words
In English, there are a few capitonyms, which are words whose meaning (and sometimes pronunciation) varies with capitalization. For example, the month August versus the adjective august. Or the verb polish versus the adjective Polish.
^Example the Dutch Dutch name Verkerk, which is made up of the prefixVer- and the noun kerk(church).
^Example: the Dutch name Van der Kerk is made up of the prefix van (which at the same time is a preposition); the article der (which is a declension of the definite articlede); and the noun Kerk. The prefix Ver- is a contraction of the separable affixes, that has "bonded" with the noun. However, the surname Ver Huell is an example of a case where the prefix Ver has not yet become part of the name.
^Ilene Strizver (2011). "ALL CAPS: To set or not to set?". Fonts.com. Monotype Imaging. Retrieved 21 June 2011.; Cohen, Noam (4 February 2008). "Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC?". New York Times. Retrieved 29 January 2011. Jason Santa Maria, creative director of Happy Cog Studios, which designs Web sites, detected a basic breach of netiquette. "Hillary's text is all caps, like shouting," he said.