Capitalization Rules

There are many rules to capitalization. Most people know the basics of capitalization such as capitalizing the first letter of the first word at the beginning of a new sentence, but when is capitalization appropriate in other situations? Outlined below is a comprehensive guide providing rules and examples to proper capitalization.


Buildings, Streets, Parks, Statues, Monuments

  • - Capitalize the names of:
    · buildings   · towers   · churches   · schools  
    · thoroughfares  · squares   · parks   
    · statues   · monuments   

Continents, Countries, Counties, Districts, Cities, Towns
  • - Capitalize the names of:
    · continents  · countries  · counties  · districts   · towns  · villages  · hamlets  · communities
    · political divisions (i.e. United Kingdom, French Republic)  
  • - Federal and State and Provincial Courts - Capitalize when used with a definite name.
     · the Supreme Court of Canada   · the State Court of Appeals   
     · the United States Circuit Court

Do not capitalize district or city courts.  (example:  the magistrate’s court)


Compass Points
  • - Capitalize points of the compass when they designate geographical parts of a country, region or city.
     · the Inland Northwest   · Southeast states   · out West   · Eastern sources    

  • - Capitalize northern, southern, western, eastern, east, west, north, south when used as part of proper names to designate a world division.  DO NOT capitalize when used to indicate parts of states or provinces.
    · Eastern Hemisphere   · Southwestern Europe   · Southeast Asia
    · southern California   · northern Quebec


Degrees - Academic
  • Capitalize academic degrees and professional designations.  When writing more than one degree/designation, arrange them in accordance to their importance
    · Laura Bates, PhD   · James Pallister, M.D.   · Peter Wong, M.D., BChir

    Examples of degrees:
    · Associate’s degrees (U.S.): AA, ABS, AS
    · Foundation degrees (U.K.): Fda, FdEd, FdEng, FdMus, FdSc, FdTech
    · Bachelor’s degrees: BA, BBA, BChir, BComm, BE, BS, BSc, BCL, BFA, LLB, MB, 
    · Master’s degrees: BCL, LLM, MA, MApol, MBA, MChem, MDiv, MESci, MEng, MFA, MGeol, MLitt, MMath,
      PA, MPAff, MPhil, MPhys, MPM, MPP, MRE, Mres, MS, MSc, Msci, MTh, MTCM, MTS
    · Specialist degrees:  EdS, BAcc
    · Doctorate degrees:  DA, DBA, DCL, DD, DLitt, DMA, DMus, DNSci, DOM, DPhil, DSc, EdD, EngD, JD, OMD,
      PharmD, PhD, PsyD, ThD, 


Eras and Historical Periods - Scientific and Common Names
  • - Capitalize scientific names of the world’s eras and common names for historical epochs, periods and events. 
    · the Ice Age   · Colonial days   · the Great Depression 


  • - Capitalize the names and synonyms for flags of nations. 
    · the Union Jack   · the Star-Spangled Banner  
    · Old Glory    · the Maple Leaf


Geographical Terms
  • - The following geographical terms are usually capitalized immediately following the names:
    Basin            Bend               Branch          Butte           Canal          Canyon
    Canyon        Channel        Cove               Crater         Creek          Current      
    Current        Divide            Flat(s)            Gap              Glacier       Glades        
    Gulch            Harbor          Hill                  Hollow        Inlet            Island      
    Lake              Mesa              Mountain     Narrows     Ocean         Park            
    Passage       Peninsula     Plateau        Point           Pond           Range  (mountain)
    Reef               Ridge              River             Run              Shoal           Sound


Geographical Words
  • - The following words are usually capitalized when they stand before or after a name or when used as part of a name:
    Bay             Bayou             Camp (military)     Cape
    Desert        Falls                Fort                             Head
    Isle              Lake               Mount                        Oasis
    Pass            Port                River                            Sea
    Strait          Valley


  • -  Capitalize the word “Government” when referring to the country’s Government or that of any foreign nation.
    · Her Majesty’s Government   · Government responsibility  
    · Imperial Government  · on official Government business


Government Departments
  • - Capitalize when referring to departments, boards, bureaus, offices, agencies, commissions, committees and services of the government when the name is given. 
    · the Securities and Exchange Commission   
    · the Federal Bureau of Investigation   
    · the Environmental Protection Agency
    · the Federal Reserve Board

             Do not capitalize when used without a name or if used as an adjective.


Government Terms
  • - Administration - Capitalize the word “administration” when referring to the political party in power or when used with a name to designate a Government board. 
    · the Reagan Administration  
  • - Cabinet - Capitalize the word “Cabinet” when referring to the Cabinet of the President or Prime Minister of a country.  
    · officer of the Cabinet    · the President’s Cabinet  

  •  - Federal - Capitalize the word “Federal” when referring to the country’s Government.
    · She works for the Federal Government. 


Holy Bible
  • - Names for the Bible – Capitalize all names for the Bible, for parts and versions of the Bible and all names of other sacred books. 
    · Bible  · Scriptures  · Word of God  · Holy Bible  · Old Testament   · New Testament
    · Gospels  · Ten Commandments   · Lord’s Prayer   · Gospels  · Gospel of Luke   
    · King James Version   · New International Version   

  • - Creeds and Confessions – Capitalize all names of creeds and confessions of faith and general Biblical terms. 
    · Lord’s Supper   · the Apostles’ Creed 
    · the Westminster Catechism   · Nicene Creed 

  • - Deity - Capitalize all names for Deity  
    · Father    · Almighty   · God   · Lord    · Holy Spirit   · Son of Man
    · Messiah   · Lord of Hosts   · Redeemer   · Savior    · Holy Trinity   

  • - Devil - Capitalize all names for the Devil 
    · Devil  · Satan   · Adversary   · Father of Lies   · Evil One   · Lucifer
    · Prince of Darkness   · Beelzebub (meaning Satan)

    * Do not capitalize when used in a general sense or as an expletive. (Example:  The devil is a formidable adversary.)


  • - Army, Navy and Air Force – Capitalize when referring to these organizations by name or with other widely accepted references to them. 
    · the Army  · U.S. Army   · French Army  · Organized Reserves  · 1st Regiment    
    · the Navy  · U.S. Navy   · British Navy  · Marine Corps  · the Marines    
    · the Air Force  · U.S. Air Force   · Royal Air Force  · Edwards Air Force Base


  • - Proper Nouns – Capitalize all proper nouns that are names of individuals.
    · Sally Jane Anderson        · John. A. Smith

  • Personal Pronoun “ I ” – Capitalize the word " I " when referring to oneself in the first person.  This word is always capitalized, even when used in mid sentence. 
    · I will try to make the time for a vacation this year.        
    · This year, I will try to make the time for a vacation.

  • Epithets - Capitalize epithets added to proper names or applied to people or places.
    · the Dallas Cowboys    · the Golden Gate    · the Green Belt  
    · William the Conqueror    · the Empire State Building 

  • Family - Father and Mother – Capitalize when used as a means of personally addressing the individual, but not when used as a possessive pronoun. 
    · Before I forget to tell you, Father, they are expecting you at 7:00 PM at the hall.  
    · My mother has agreed to stay with our children.   

  • Family - Uncle, Aunt, Cousin – Capitalize these and other family terms when used with a proper noun, but not when used as a possessive pronoun. 
    · I saw Aunt Sarah dancing all night.  
    · When I arrived, Cousin Bill was directing traffic.
    · My uncle sold the farm because of his bad health.

  • Prefixes – Capitalize prefixes in the names of foreign people unless preceded by a given name or title.
    · Van Leeuwen    · Thomas van Leeuwen
    · De Paul    · Cardinal de Paul

    With British and American names, such prefixes are usually capitalized even if preceded by a given name or title. Individual preference prevails in these cases.


Nation or Republic
  • -  Capitalize when used as a synonym for a country.
    · The Nation stands by its men and women in combat.   
    · The future of the Republic is riding on his shoulders.


Organized Bodies
  • - Capitalize when referring to these organized groups as a whole. 
    · Shriners   · Democrats  · Elks 


  • - Capitalize names of clubs, societies, associations, companies, foundations, institutes, etc.
    · Knights of Columbus   · American Lung Association  · Microsoft Corporation


  • - Traditionally, the first word of every line of poetry is capitalized.

  • - In some modern English poetry formats, only the first word of the first line is capitalized, and sometimes even this word is all lower-case.


Point Form
  • - There are no hard rules to capitalization when using a "point form" to list your points.  Choose whichever looks best esthetically within your document.

  • - As a general guideline to using "point form," use a numbered list when order is important and use a bulleted list when the order of the points is not important.


  • - Capitalize the first word of every complete quotation within quotation marks. 
    · The waitress asked, “Do you want your coffee with cream and sugar?”

  • - DO NOT capitalize that part of a quotation resumed within the same sentence.
    · “Do you want your coffee,” the waitress asked, “with cream and sugar?”


  • - Capitalize the first word of every sentence, whether it is a complete sentence or not.


State or Province/Provincial
  • - Capitalize when used with a name or when used in place of the name.  Lower-case applies when used as a general term.
    · The Province of Ontario   · New York State  · State’s legislation
    · provincial park   · state prison  


Titles - Personal
  • Academic and Religious titles – Capitalize when preceding a name or when used as a means of personally addressing the individual.
    · Professor David Schwartz    · Bishop Larry Wiseman
    · Doctor Paul McNeil   · Dr. Paul McNeil
    · Reverend Henry Krause   · Rev. Henry Krause
    · Please be completely honest with me, Doctor, about your prognosis.

     * The titles Doctor and Reverend are usually abbreviated, but are often spelled out with formal use.

  • Government titles – Capitalize when referring to definite persons or to their positions.
    · the Queen of England   · the President of the United States
    · Secretary of Defense    · Congressman from Massachusetts

  • Rank, Respect, and Honor titles – Capitalize all titles of rank, respect and honor when preceding a name.
    · President Theodore Roosevelt  · Senator Robert Morris   
    · Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist  · Speaker John Denison

  • -  Titles instead of Names – Capitalize titles when used as a means of personally addressing the individual. 
    · We’ve talked with the troops, General, and they seem to be in good spirits.   
    · Mr. Secretary, please give me your opinion on this issue.   
    · I came across the crime scene, Officer, and immediately called the police. 
    · Is there enough support, Senator, to get this bill passed?


Titles - Other
  • Book titles – Capitalize all principal words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) and first word in book titles.
    · Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. 

  • Document and Report titles – Capitalize all principal words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) and first word in these titles.
    · U.S. Constitution   · American Lung Association Annual Report

  • Captions/Pictures – Capitalize all principal words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) and first word in the captions under pictures. 
    · Da Vinci’s “Last Supper”    

  • Musical Composition titles – Capitalize all principal words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) when referring to musical compositions.
    · Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, Opus 28, No.15

  • Radio Program titles – Capitalize all principal words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) and first word in radio program titles. 
    · All Things Considered with hosts Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Melissa Block     

  • Television Show/Movie titles – Capitalize all principal words (nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs) and first word in these titles.
    · The Wizard of Oz, with Judy Garland


Other Writing Tips:
Letter Formats

Structure of Letters
Addressing Persons of Title 

Letter Writing - Tips and Tools


* Business Letters      * Career Letters      * Personal Letters     * Love Letters

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