Capital letters – a handy guide
I’m often asked whether certain words should start with a capital letter. Yes, we all know that sentences always start with capitals but what about other words mid-sentence where the answer doesn’t seem as cut and dried?
If you’re confused, it’s for a good reason. While some capitalisations are logical, many are not. Some capital letters are consistent throughout the language while others are arbitrary, differing from country to country and even from one newspaper to another! But here as a guideline are some generally accepted rules:
|Sentences||Begin every sentence with a capital letter|
|First person||Again, always use a capital: “I know what I’m talking about.”|
|Pronoun||Words following commas, semicolons and commas shouldn’t start with a capital unless they’re a name or proper noun (essentially a specific person, place, organisation or thing)|
|Planes||Names are treated as proper nouns and so are capitalised – Boeing 757, Airbus etc|
|Armed Forces||Specific armies are capitalised – British Army – but not when used generically, as in army, navy, air force. Ranks are always capitalised – Sergeant, Admiral, Lieutenant and so on.|
|Compass Points||north-east, south-west but, confusingly, deep South and frozen North|
|Diplomacy||Ecuadorean embassy (I use this example as we saw it many times in any news story involving Julian Assange)|
|Dog breeds||Remember I mentioned that some rules are illogical? Here’s a case in point: Afghan hound, Airedale terrier, Cavachon, Cockapoo, Great Dane, Kerry blue, Labrador, Newfoundland, Pomeranian, Samoyed and Schnauzer are all capitalised. Yet we spell others with lower case letters – basset hound, bulldog, bull terrier, cocker spaniel, golden retriever, lurcher, pug, poodle and rottweiler. Why the double standard? I’m afraid that’s another of life’s great mysteries.|
|Exclamations||Oh! Ouch! Wow!|
|Headlines||With headlines that are a mix of capitals and lower case letters, capitalise nouns, pronouns, verbs and words of four or more letters and both parts of hyphenated words such as Sit-In, Post-War.|
|Local government||Watford Borough Council but lower case ‘council’ when used generically|
|Member of Parliament||member of parliament but MP when abbreviated|
|Quotes||Capitalise the first word of complete quotations such as “Show me the money” but not partial quotations, words or phrases|
|Religion||Church of England, Mother Theresa, Archbishop of Canterbury, Christians and Jews but church, synagogue, temple and cathedral|
|Seasons||spring, summer, autumn and winter|
|Street names||avenue, crescent, road and street but Pinner Road and Leicester Square|
As with all punctuation, capital letters play an important role. Sure, a paragraph of text without them would be readable – with effort – but how much easier it is for the eye to glide through it with a few correctly-used capital letters.
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