A Helping Hand…cApitaLisaTioN

I tend to find when I’ve read a book which has been a tad economic, let’s say, with the time spent on editing/proofreading (ahem!), that it’s not one particular aspect of punctuation or grammar. No…it’s the full Monty. I am going to need a shatterproof, iron-clad Kindle soon—it can’t take me hurling it at the wall in exasperation for very much longer.

So, having tackled apostrophes, semi-colons, ellipses, dashes and the that/which debate, let’s have a go at capitalisation, which seems to fox people. Like so many other cast members in the screenplay of punctuation characters, we could go on forever, so I’ll try and cover the basics in this limited space.

The best thing to try and remember is: don’t use a capital letter for a common noun unless it is absolutely essential.

Professions are not capitalised and, therefore, professor, doctor, senator, detective, president, etc., are in lowercase, unless they are followed by a proper name, or you are addressing a person in that profession:

Stephen Hise is an illustrious professor of literature but I asked Professor Chris James for some advice on how to time-travel


“I’d like to attend your lecture on how to be a best-selling author, Professor,” said Carol

Barack Obama is the president of the United States but I watched the inauguration of President Obama on television.

David Cameron, the prime minister of England but Prime Minister David Cameron

Elizabeth is the queen of England but Prince Philip and Queen Elizabeth attended the opening ceremony of the Olympic games.

Similarly, relatives:

My mum, my aunt, my dad and my uncle came to my birthday party.

My mum, Auntie Jane, Uncle Arthur and my brother all went to the cinema.

“Did you find my Kindle anywhere, Mum, when you were tidying my bedroom?”

Seasons, school subjects (physics/geography/biology) are not capitalised, but languages are. However: I studied French literature at university.

When pertaining to a country, use a capital letter, ie, when it is, quite literally, for example, of France, of Germany. But venetian blinds do not necessarily come from Venice.

‘government’ and ‘parliament’ are not capitalised unless you are talking about the Government and the Parliament (i.e. a specific government/parliament).

Do use capitals when you want to stress something or want to make light or fun of something:

Stephen Hise is the Evil Mastermind.

Brand names should be capitalised:  My first ever radio was a Sony.

There are of course obvious instances where capital letters should be used:

Days of the week/months/holidays/religious terms/planets (but not sun and moon), languages, ethnic groups, countries, etc.

The most common fault is to overcapitalise. As always, if in doubt, check it out before putting your little digit on that shift key



Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

27 thoughts on “A Helping Hand…cApitaLisaTioN”

  1. Oh, boy! Two always get me and I have to stop what I’m doing and think them through. 1. The seasons. 2. North, south, the East, west. Did I get them right?

    1. The four seasons are not capitalised. Cardinal points: adjectively, or indicating a direction, they are not capitalised. ‘Ten paces to the north, and at last, my pot of gold!’, but if you the term is for a region, like the Middle East, the North Pole, then points of the compass are capitalised.

      1. I tend to do what makes sense to me, rather than what the textbook says, but one I keep wondering about is colling somebody something. Like,. Look out, hotshot.
        Come on, baby.
        Hey, bigtime.

        Now if you say, Hey, turkey, or yo, sucker, it’s probably not caps.
        But if it’s like a pet name like Honeybunch or Sweetheart or Shooter maybe it’s proper?

        Be tough to draw the line, I’d think.

  2. This is great, Cathy, thank you! I work for a college, so I face this issue frequently about subjects, semesters, professors, deans, degrees, and majors. It’s as if people have gone mad on their shift keys. So you can study archeology, but Archeology 101 is being offered in the fall (but not in the Spring 2014 semester) so you can fulfill your associate degree or transfer to another college to get your bachelor’s. Oy.

  3. Another terrific article, Cathy, thanks. So when you describe Stephen Hise as the “Evil Mastermind”, you’re stressing the fact rather than having a giggle, yes? 🙂

  4. This stuff drives me crazy when I see it in books, too, Cathy. Thanks for posting this. And if you ever find a source for a shatterproof Kindle, let me know, okay? 😉

  5. For your American readers (and, increasingly, Canadian ones), it’s “capitalization.” Oh, and there’s this:

    “Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States. Looking at the Capitol dome down East Capitol Street, Capitol Hill residents may rue the District of Columbia’s lack of voting representation in Congress. Some federal agencies, such as the National Capital Planning Commission, may ignore the desires of the people of the District.”

    Confusing, huh?

    Speaking of proofreading, there’s a superfluous comma in the opening sentence (between “has” and “been”) and Barack is spelled with one “r.” I know, I can’t help myself. 😉

    Nice summary, Cathy.

    1. Well, I was using proper English, David, so capitalisation it had to be 😛
      And THANK YOU for pointing out my blunders (duly corrected, just in case anyone thinks David has gone doolally). Bar(r)ack was naughty, the comma between has and been was undue haste when I altered the text slightly. You really ought to be an editor 😉

      1. Heh, editing is a kind of sickness, I swear. I can’t turn it off any more. I love the word “doolally”! No one ever uses it over here. Ha, and we’re in No Man’s Land (No Person’s Land?) here, although Canadians more and more are leaning toward the American “z” (even though we will always call it a zed not a zee).

          1. Yeah, and it’s not even consistent. You’ll never see “surprise” or “advertise” with a “z”. Well, okay, you might, but they’ll be mistakes. 🙂

  6. Do you know what I hate? I really hate the current trend to not use capitals anywhere: movie titles and credits for instance. I blame text speak. Then again, I tend to blame text speak for just about everything.

    Thanks Cathy.

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