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.
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